“There are thousands of ways to approach music,” we are told as we venture into the basement of La Gaîté Lyrique, towards the extraordinary augmented and electronic noise of Paris Musique Club. This is an audiovisual exhibition that dismantles and rebuilds the traditional idea of just listening to music. The notion of ‘approaches’ to music immediately implies the potentially varying experiences we can have as listeners, suggesting that there is more than just listening involved. Parisian label Scale, who were given carte blanche to produce the exhibition, make a sonic-visual collision the focal point of the show. The exhibition gains a lot from it’s surprising smallness in both number of works (6) and spatial scope, giving each intricate piece the space to explore ideas of listening, viewing and performing.
First, 1020s: a fusion of classical music – Ravel’s ’Bolero’ – with contemporary, CGI visuals projected onto a large structure resembling in equal parts an iceberg and an orchestral pit (a nice shout out to ‘Bolero’s’ roots if intentional). The experience is enticingly immersive, requiring spectators to put on headphones which block out about 80% of the outside noise and lets you just float along. What you see on the iceberg are light projections in various structures, colours and patterns, these being the visual counterparts of ‘Bolero’ that have been meticulously translated by numeric formula. ‘Bolero’ is therefore rejigged as 1020s retains the original music but presents an alternative way of experiencing the score through the audiovisual. The new dimension that is added to the classical in 1020s renders you both the traditional ‘listener’ and, newly, the ‘viewer’. Note, if you are one of those people who thinks classical music is boring, then this might change your mind.
Résistance and Playground together extend the roles of ‘listener’ and ‘viewer’ to include ‘performer’. Résistance, a self-playing piano which allows you to tweak its pre-installed melodies, also permits you to play it normally with the addition of an enormous network of tubes illuminated with various colours depending on the note. Watching people play is fascinating, looking back and forth between tubes and piano as if cracking a code. Even an adept pianist finds himself flummoxed by the connection between the notes and their colour responses. The new dimension that is given to this traditional instrument is clearly difficult to navigate as the seasoned player stumbles over his fingers, unable to immediately find the biting point between his roles as ‘listener’, ‘viewer’ and ‘performer’. This performative element is important as it helps you play an active role in your understanding of Scale’s multi-dimensional musical space, suggesting that it is equally as important as listening and viewing. Indeed, Scale’s decision to stress the importance 0f performance in an approach to music as a listener provides you with a fresh understanding of sounds as you are producing. What’s more, you are struck by the sense of music’s universality: no-one really knows how to play it and so no-one is too self-conscious to try it out.
In a similar way, Playground lets you play an enormous (36) set of drums by stepping on any combination of 16 pads, each corresponding with the self-playing drums which also feature a visual element in trippy abstract graphics that are projected onto the skins. Whether you are a kid storming gung-ho onto the mats or an adult with a slightly more methodical approach, everyone is trying to get their head around how to engage with this ‘uncanny drum kit’ that they only at least partially understand. And what is so brilliant about it is that gung-ho or methodical, either approach is totally acceptable, living up to its namesake Playground.
What is so appealing about this show is the almost unhindered allowance of interaction with the works. At only one point does an invigilator make a somewhat perfunctory intervention to encourage some kids not to jump “too hard”. This free reign provides an atmosphere that lets you approach the installations as you wish, guiding you to the ultimate revelation that the ideas of viewing and performing are just as important as listening. This contemporary concept of music references the prominence of electronically produced sounds in composition today, an approach governed by interdisciplinary approaches spanning computing, maths and visual arts to name a few. And with its crossing of both disciplines and listener roles, Paris Musique Club ultimately achieves the expression of music’s contemporary universality. We discover that we are truly an integral part of the music, both in the show and beyond.
Paris Musique Club is running at La Gaîté Lyrique until 31st January 2016. More information here.