We are barrelling towards the end of 2021! What a feeling~ To wrap up 2021 (before I finally put my Art of 2021 post together), I’d like to do this exhibition review of Orchestral Manoeuvres: See Sound. Feel Sound. Be Sound at ArtScience Museum! This was definitely one of my exhibition highlights of the year because I was a plus-one to my sister’s invited press trip to Marina Bay Sands (with staycation to boot!!), and we got to see a preview of the Orchestral Manoeuvres exhibition before it opened in late August.
I like to say that in my ‘previous life’, i.e. before I discovered art history, I used to play music, picking up varying instruments at different times in life with the piano, saxophone (school band days) and guitar. I don’t think I ever did get accustomed to the discipline that regular musical practice requires, or learned how to play music ‘for fun’ or for myself — but I would say that music and songs are still very present in my everyday!
So I was also pretty heartened to hear during the exhibition tour preview of the curator Adrian George’s own personal attachment to the themes of Orchestral Manoeuvres revolving around music and sound. This exhibition is curated by the ArtScience Museum to mark its 10th year anniversary (already!), and I loved hearing the stories behind each work and seeing the care and effort that was taken in putting this exhibition together.
I was a little hesitant to see an entire exhibition on sound, particularly in contemporary art — because I thought it might not be for me, too avant-garde perhaps?? — but this was really excellent! It’s a quiet, as in understated, exploration of sound and music in art without being overbearing or overly pretentious. It actually feels like a calming exhibition interspersed with works that produce sounds or music (it’s a sound exhibition, after all!), and other artworks that describe the music instead.
I like how the didactic for this work calls Rage Fluids a “self-portrait in sculpture and sound”. The noise that plays in this installation makes the foil in these curved panels vibrate, and it’s meant to be a reference to the artist Perry’s childhood and car culture.
This is a series of photographs showing the effects of sound, set at different frequencies (that determine pitch), and how they create different vibrations or patterns on the surface of milk! I’ve never been good at physics and so don’t really understand this, but apparently low-frequency sounds, i.e. low-pitch sounds, cause the most impact on milk and create the most elaborate patterns!
These two Resonance in Frames works are in fact moving artworks, because the mechanisms (probably the microcontrollers) periodically tap against the copper pipes to create sound. It’s like the machinery is making music on its own!
This installation is a series of six works that have been so well-placed together. The top two hanging in the air Forest-Sounds – Bird NO.3 and Insects Chirping – Chinese Medicine Box move up and down, while the tree branches of Bird Song flap up and down! There’s also chirping sounds emanating from this corner, that seems to sound more like bird chirping (preferred!) than insect chirping.
I keep seeing the promo posters for the exhibition showing Chair of Concentration and declaring this as “Not your Usual Headphones”, haha! The objects in this definitely give it a traditional Chinese feel, but counters usual expectations of what you’ll see.
I really liked this one! Kim writes a sort of musical score for the sounds of different activities, expressing it in terms of volume (meaning loudness) and frequency (meaning rate of occurrence). I keep feeling like I have to clarify my word usage, in case I make a pun or when words could be understood differently in terms of sound!
For a bit of background on musical notation, specifically dynamics (i.e. loudness in music), p stands for piano meaning ‘quiet’, pp stands for pianissimo meaning ‘very quiet’, f stands for forte meaning loud, and ff stands for fortissimo meaning very loud. Kim uses these dynamics in her works to illustrate her sounds — and another interesting note (excuse the pun) is that Kim was born deaf, and she combines such musical notations with American Sign Language in these works.
Don’t these three works just so well express the tune of COVID-19 lockdowns……
I like how Khan takes inspiration from Bach, Beethoven and Mozart, and re-interprets their musical scores by overlapping the pages on top of each other to create these blotted prints.
I first saw Ang’s works in the restaged (is this a pun??) exhibition of Music For Everyone: Variations on a Theme last year at National Museum of Singapore, that was first shown at the Venice Biennale in 2019. I like how Ang’s patterned versions of Western-style five-line staves in musical notation are included here in Orchestral Manoeuvres too!
I was quite fascinated by this, as I mostly know Luigi Russolo for his Futurist paintings, but not for his music. I’ve also been fascinated with the Futurists since learning about them, because I find them so bold and nuts enough to hold on to their ambitions to envision the future of a modern city (when the movement formed in 1909), though keeping things purely on an artistic level and not actually acting on their radical ideals.
Anyway, most of Russolo’s musical compositions were destroyed during the Second World War, but music archeologists (this is a great term) have rediscovered the first seven bars of Il risveglio di una città (The Awakening of a City), as seen here!
Below the Russolo, there’s a display case showcasing some of John Cage’s compositions or musical instructions. And of course, there needs to be the inclusion of Cage’s seminal 4’33” of silence… and I love how there are ‘notes’ for this composition (such a pun).
This is a really interesting gathering of early scores from centuries past, and from cultures independent of the Western musical canon!
So I learned that a pianola is a self-playing piano, and this pianola can be turned on by pressing a giant red button at the back of it! 4’33” (Prepared Pianola for Roger Bannister) also references Cage’s 4’33”, but the duration here is in fact a reference to the British athletics sportsman Roger Bannister, who set a British record at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki for the 1500m Men’s Final. There are a few accompanying posters (seen above in the cover picture) as part of this work, but I think the pianola — especially when it starts playing really loudly — steals the show!
I really like these pieces by Yoko Ono, which are so whimsical, introspective and playful at the same time.
I really like this one of Gillian Wearing dancing in a South London shopping mall — but there’s no music playing. Instead, she’s dancing to songs playing in her head. That whole music playing in my memory totally happens with me too, and then I’ll have to actually play the actual song! Also, I like how this video piece was presented on an old-school small SONY TV.
This is probably the most popular or significant work in the entire exhibition, which I think resonated with many people too. I just took a photo of the forty speakers, but ultimately the work is really about the forty-track recording of the choir singing A reworking of “Spem in Alium”. Each speaker plays a recording of each of the choir members singing their part, and you can choose to listen to each individually, or just take it all in right in the centre. I’ve heard that many people felt moved by the experience, but for me, I would say that it felt pretty epic, like I was right in the middle of a choir, listening to their singing amplified.
This interactive space was pretty fun! You can step on a pedal, and that will make these various ‘installations’ of household objects to start moving around in a circle, and the objects jangle and clink against each other to make music!
This video was taken in Stuttgart, Germany, where the artist Nevin Aladağ spent her childhood. It’s a compilation of actual musical instruments being placed or moved around different parts of the city, and how they can be ‘played by the city’!
I thought this shot of a balloon attached to a cornet (I think??) just screamed aesthetic!
This final work of the exhibition pays tribute to Drei Klavierstücke (“Three Piano Pieces”), Op. 11, that was written by the Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg in 1909, but it’s also a tribute to the roles that cats play in our lives… It’s a compilation of various clips taken from YouTube videos featuring cats stepping on pianos, but all the notes culminate to perform the Op 11 piece! It’s both fun and random, and I also appreciate the love for cat videos (also so present in my life)!!
I also love the giant reproduction of the score on the wall next to the video screen, which are in fact the first few bars of Arnold Schoenberg’s Op. 11.
I would highly recommend a visit to this exhibition, which is different from the usual fare, but also so creative and thoughtful at the same time! It’s still showing for the first two days of the new year until 2 January 2022. Find out more at their exhibition link here.
I’m so glad I caught this exhibition, and it’s amazing to think that ArtScience Museum has already been around for 10 years in Singapore! ArtScience Museum still remains one of my favourite places to go to in Singapore, and it’s exciting to see what they will present next!