Blog: Cutting Through the Noise

Blog of Cellist Joshua Roman
Sonic Installation in Santa Barbara

The following is from a guest blog post I made for the Santa Barbara Museum of Art's blog. I had the wonderful experience of curating a "sonic installation" in their galleries this last Sunday, in collaboration with the Music Academy of the West. (to see the original post on the SBMA website, complete with pictures, click here.) Last Sunday I had the unique opportunity to curate an event at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art as part of my residency at Music Academy of the West. I chose to create a "sonic installation", placing chamber music in various galleries and organizing it in such a way as to have 3 simultaneous performances going at any given point in time during the 2-hour event. It was a rather ambitious project but came off well, in no small part due to the inspiring music making of the 28 MAW Fellows that performed. There were several decisions that I made in the course of putting the installation together that were designed to be thought provoking beyond that which is already in the music.

1. No exact programs were given to the attendees. Instead, they were given a list of repertoire and performers, with no indication of when or where they would be performed. This was done both to encourage people to wander through the museum following their ears, and also to facilitate new musical discoveries. My favorite example of this was the crowd that gathered around Ligeti’s Six Bagatelles. If people had known whose music they were headed towards, they might have turned around. But with predispositions temporarily suspended by lack of information, they found themselves listening to "modern" music rather than Beethoven or Dvorak, and enjoying it!

2. Certain pieces were placed near art that either matched its character/time period, or had an interesting juxtaposition. Some examples include Debussy’s Syrinx, which was performed next to a painting by Monet called Charing Cross Bridge. Prokofiev’s Quintet was in a room with an art piece titled The Capital Paintings by Colin Darke which used Karl Marx’s "Das Kapital" as its inspiration. This was followed – in the same room – by a smashing arrangement of "Stars and Stripes Forever" by Sousa. I played solo Bach in a cavernous room with modern art, including a towering structure in the middle of the room that reminded me of Bach’s form and structure in the Prelude of the 4th Suite.

3. Some rooms were chosen for acoustic reasons, like Jet Whistle by Villa-Lobos, which I played with a wonderful flutist, Jennifer Zhou, in a marble two-story room with a fountain in the middle and great atmosphere. Groups were also strategically placed so that someone wandering between musically occupied galleries might experience an interesting clash between two pieces. However, luckily, when one was in a room with a performance, all else faded away into the background.

There are many ways to explore the intersection of art forms, and this was one of my favorites because of the casual way it allowed the "audience" to participate in creating their own experience. Many thanks go to the Music Academy Fellows and Staff, to the Staff of the Museum, and of course to the sponsors of my residency, Jill and John C. Bishop.