Sound and art come together at ArtScience Museum’s new exhibition, Orchestral Manoeuvres: See Sound. Feel Sound. Be Sound. Opening on 28th August, Orchestral Manoeuvres features over 32 artists and composers from eight countries, who explore sound through sculpture, installation and music.
Sound has been established as an artistic medium since the beginning of the last century. Orchestral Manoeuvres, curated by ArtScience Museum, celebrates this artform through the work of some of the world’s leading artists whose explorations of the sonic landscape encourage visitors to listen more closely to the sounds around us.
Orchestral Manoeuvres presents sound art projects, early music notation, experimental scores, noise-making sculptures, video installations and contemporary artworks. One of the key highlights is a presentation of the landmark artwork, The Forty Part Motet by Janet Cardiff, which will be showing for the first time in Southeast Asia. Other artists in the exhibition include Song-Ming Ang (Singapore), John Cage (USA), Chen Zhen (China), Phil Collins (UK), Hsiao Sheng-Chien (Taiwan), Jeremy Deller (UK), Zul Mahmod (Singapore), Robert Morris (USA), Carsten Nicolai (Germany), Pauline Oliveros (USA), Yoko Ono (Japan/USA), Hannah Perry (UK), Luigi Russolo (Italy), Christine Sun Kim (USA), Gillian Wearing (UK), and Samson Young (Hong Kong).
“For our tenth anniversary, ArtScience Museum is opening an exhibition developed by our exhibition curators. It explores a topic which has long been a personal passion of mine – sound,” said Honor Harger, Executive Director of ArtScience Museum, Marina Bay Sands. “We have brought some of the most striking contemporary artworks made over the past two decades to Singapore, including Janet Cardiff’s extraordinary installation, The Forty Part Motet.”
“The exhibition we have made together will not be a quiet experience. It is not unplugged. It is not a concert. It is not a performance. It is not a lecture. It is instead a complex soundscape, with different stories and voices overlapping as visitors make their way through the galleries. We hope the experience of visiting Orchestral Manoeuvres will inspire our visitors to feel differently about sound and music.”– Honor Harger, Executive Director of ArtScience Museum, Marina Bay Sands
Presented over nine galleries, Orchestral Manoeuvres is curated by Adrian George, Director of Exhibitions at ArtScience Museum, with Amita Kirpalani, Curator at ArtScience Museum. It takes visitors on an auditory and visual journey that expands how viewers think about, experience and understand sound. The show invites visitors to tune in, listen deeply, feel the vibrations and create their own personal soundtrack as they journey through a sonic landscape.
“Over the last 20 years, I’ve encountered sound-based works in one arts institution or another, which have always stirred deep emotions in me, whether tears of joy and elation, wonder and laughter,” says Adrian George, Director, Exhibitions, ArtScience Museum, Marina Bay Sands.
“After moving to Singapore, I became aware that many of my friends were also talented musicians, and how music enrichment was a core part of education. Everything from experimental music to the hottest DJs in Southeast Asia were here, and I knew that we had to make an exhibition about sound and art in Singapore.”– Adrian George, Director, Exhibitions, ArtScience Museum, Marina Bay Sands
“Across these nine ‘chapters’, you’ll see 32 composers and artists being represented in works that have you ‘seeing’ and feeling sound,” he continues. “You will also encounter singers who don’t sing and a choir of people you can’t see. This exhibition includes a piano that plays itself and instruments you’ve never seen or heard before. Try your hand at composing and perhaps take inspiration from a famous composer who suggests you throw your music around before you try to play it. Whatever journey you take through Orchestral Manoeuvres, music will never sound the same again.”
The first chapter of the exhibition explores resonance. The sculptural form of British artist Hannah Perry’s Rage Fluids, 2021, vibrates in response to the deep bass tones played periodically through partially hidden speakers. In turn, the materials of the sculpture vibrate and amplify the sound.
“It’s a very masculine sculpture made of industrial materials, and references car culture,” says Hannah. “When the music plays, the vibrations from the surface cause it to move, and it’s this very sensory sculpture, reflecting and referencing our selves in our surroundings.”
Sound waves are made visible as they bounce off materials and unsettle the surfaces of liquids. German artist Carsten Nicolai’s milch (series of 10), 2000 captures the effect that sound waves have on the surface of a container of milk in 10 photographic prints and in so doing lays bare the materiality of sound.
The second chapter, Performing Objects, of the exhibition reveals how an object in the gallery space can behave like a performer. Here, celebrated American Minimalist, Robert Morris’ Box with the Sound of Its Own Making, 1961, performs, documents and broadcasts the sound of the artist making the artwork, with the sounds of the hammering and sawing that went into the making of the box being heard.
Bringing that work into the 21st century is Cube with the Sound of its Own Printing, 2014/2021 by American artist Ashley Zelinskie, which pays homage to Morris’ work. Zelinskie’s cube references Morris’ box to capturing the role of technology in the 21st century, and the changing role of the artist over time.”In my tribute, my cube makes robotic sounds from it being 3D printed instead, and translates its artistry and culture to the 21st century and beyond,” says Zelinskie. “It’s amazing to be able to exhibit these works beside each other, I’m a big admirer of Morris’ work, and visitors can compare and contrast the two pieces with each other.”
Renowned German Conceptualist Timm Ulrichs’ concrete box further extends these ideas. Encased within his work titled Radio, 1977/2021 is a transistor radio whose antenna picks up analogue radio signals. The crackling sounds emanating from Radio refers to the scarcity of radio stations in the age of digital broadcast and streaming services.
Chair of Concentration, 1999, by Chinese artist Chen Zhen, and a selection of six kinetic sculptures by Taiwanese artist Hsiao Sheng-Chien, record or recreate the soundscapes of their childhoods and familiar environments. Singapore-based artist Zul Mahmod’s work, Resonance in Frames 2 and 3, 2018, reveals sound as a connective device. He uses mechanistic and utilitarian objects to depict sound as a system that we might tune into.
Chinese-American artist Christine Sun Kim visualises sounds unheard to her as a deaf person – as lyrical and linguistic musical notation – articulating the auditory world through her written gestures.
Idris Khan’s work is a musical palimpsest where the lines of a piece of music are layered one over the other obscuring the score yet still retaining the potential to communicate music. Khan’s work suggests the complexity and fullness of sound in the performance of musical scores.
Chapter Four shows how music has been shared and recorded through the ages. A variety of historical and contemporary musical languages, with the oldest known score from Ancient Babylon to 14th Century Vedic chants, to contemporary American interpretations, are showcased here. The way music is shared and communicated is incredibly important and speaks of knowledge and power. Particularly on the Western front, if you are not able to read or interpret a score, you cannot recreate the music, which speaks of how music itself was a thing of privilege, even when scoresheets were the more ubiquitous way of sharing Western music at the time. These other historical artefacts then act as a means of showing how music can otherwise be communicated.
Avant-garde composer John Cage drew inspiration from the I-Ching and Zen Buddhism to revolutionise music composition and performance. Cage’s so-called silent work 4’33” is an incredibly influential piece of music and was an inspiration for Mel Brimfield’s work of the same title. Works in this exhibition space explore the different ways that music can be written, shared and experienced, all the way to Yoko Ono’s ‘silent’ score, where she writes a series of instructions for musicians to follow and imagine in their head. Singaporean artist Ang Song-Ming presents a series of musical manuscripts that explore musical staves in Western notations, abstracting it such that it subverts those notations.
Chapter Five explores the idea of memory and the phenomenon of the ‘inner voice’ or the sounds that we can’t seem to get out of our heads. Works by British artists Phil Collins and Jeremy Deller, and German artist Peter Weible explore the intimate and emotional nature of sound. British artist and Turner Prize winner Jeremy Deller’s wall drawing The History of the World, 1997 – 2004, maps the historical, political and social confluences between brass band music and acid house. This artwork is a unique composition and a mind-map of Deller’s musical influences.
Part of a larger video installation titled the world won’t listen, Phil Collins’ dunia tak akan mendengar, 2007, was filmed in Indonesia and depicts superfans of the British band The Smiths performing specially recorded karaoke versions of the entirety of the 1987 compilation album, The World Won’t Listen. This project exemplifies how popular music travels and embeds itself across cultures and how a passion for music can transcend skill or ability. Music, after all, should not be restricted by privilege, and passion can transcend any skill and ability, with this showcasing video evidence of how much heart and soul committed fans put into their performances.
The human voice gets the spotlight as part of Samson Young’s work, as he captures seen as important aspect of samson yang’s work, The Hong Kong Voices choir suppressing the sound-producing parts of a performance of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio Part 5 (Movement 1, Movements 4/11 Chorales), instead focusing on the breaths they take between what is normally sung. The breath-work of singing is generally obscured by the collective performed experience, but without the sung notes we can gain a better understanding of what is involved in a choral. A secret collective rhythm is revealed: the turning of sheet music, the inhalation and exhalations and the mouthed articulations of lyrics in the music are essential ingredients of a performance and are given centre stage in this artwork.
Chapter Six of the exhibition explores how all musical performances are manipulations or interpretations of some sort. Pauline Oliveros’ Sonic Meditations, 1974, is a ground-breaking book of sound exercises or ‘recipes for listening’ that proposes new ways for experiencing and producing sound, encouraging everyone to make music. An iconic sound pioneer, Oliveros has often been cited as one of the most important figures in electronic music.
Dancing in Peckham, 1994, shows artist Gillian Wearing dancing in a busy South London shopping centre to music we can’t hear, depicting the gap between a public and a private experience of music. Samson Young’s Muted Situation #5: Muted Chorus, 2016, subverts the conventional choral performance. The Hong Kong Voices, a chamber choir established in 2000, suppress the sound-producing parts of a performance of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio Part 5 (Movement 1, Movements 4/11 Chorales) instead focusing on the breaths they take between what is normally sung.
A centrepoint to the exhibition in Chapter Seven, Choral, is The Forty Part Motet, 2001 by Canadian artist Janet Cardiff. On loan from Tate, UK and the Kramlich Collection, USA, this extraordinary feat of artistic innovation, offers a deeply moving 40-part surround-sound experience of a classical choral performance. Each singer’s voice recorded separately and emanating from its own speaker. Inside this choral experience, listeners are encouraged to move carefully around the work to experience intimate connections with individual and group voices or to bathe in the glorious music and exquisite voices, a rare opportunity to observe the incidental moments preceding the musical sounds, from coughs to murmurs, before appreciating those sublime crystal clear voices.
“As a sculptural composition, people have the opportunity to walk around and go beyond just hearing music, and to feel intimately connected to one singer then the next, creating a new experience for every person entering the room,” says artist Janet Cardiff. “It’s amazing that this 16th century piece of music is still being sung, and has been preserved and modernised by this virtual choir that can connect emotionally via technology.”
Chapter Eight encourages visitors to make their own music using their own imagination, and inspiration and begins to explore how sound/music making can take many different forms. A selection of posters and documentation of events held at RawSpace, a contemporary art gallery and performance venue in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is presented in this space capturing the spirit and innovation of these performances, the line-up is an attempt to archive an important ephemeral music, sound and performance series in the region.
Meanwhile, Traces, 2015, by German artist Nevin Aladağ, is a sound and image portrait of Stuttgart, the city where she spent her childhood. Aladağ creates a sonic mise-en-scène, where various instruments are played by the city, rather than by musicians. The result is an orchestra of only partially controlled instruments and sounds, where the natural and urban environment serve as both musician and stage.
Finally, The Stage is Yours is an opportunity for visitors to perform – run your fingers over a piano keyboard or move your hands gently in the air to make sounds from the Theramin – or clap, click your fingers or stamp your feet to your unique rhythm. Visitors can tap pedals to trigger the sculptures, and are encouraged to use the sculptures as instruments, to be played together with other visitors in the gallery to create a unique and impromptu orchestra.
Visitors can also write or draw their musical composition ideas with shapes, text and stickers for others to interpret. Think of it as a dynamic space completely determined by visitors, giving them an opportunity to be creative with sound and music, and turning everyday objects into soundmaking machines, as you engage in your own performance.
The last chapter of Orchestral Manoeuvres captures our evolving relationship with music from its creation to the way we interact, manipulate or record it. Cory Arcangel’s Drei Klavierstücke op. 11, 2009, is a playful re-engineering of Arnold Schoenberg’s op. 11 Drei Klavierstücke (Three Piano Pieces), 1909. Using a series of YouTube clips showing cats walking on pianos, the video recreates every note from Schoenberg’s avant-garde masterpiece, eschewing traditional harmony and heralding a radical break with classical form.
“Originally, this had a different title, but we decided to pay homage to the band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark,” adds Honor. “And in curating the exhibition, Adrian did something remarkable; while each piece was done in isolation, as an exhibition exploring sound, it seemed like he composed the exhibition to give them a piece, orchestrating them such that they can be heard and understood together as a whole.”
“In our lives, we blink so often that we spend a majority of our waking hours with our eyes closed,” concludes Adrian. “Yet we cannot close our ears, so we’re constantly receiving aural stimulation, swimming in an ocean of sound that we often disregard or choose to ignore. Orchestral Manoeuvres is an intimate reflection on the relationship between art and music. It encourages us to think about the sounds around us and feel them more deeply.”
Orchestral Manoeuvres runs from 28th August 2021 to 2nd January 2022 at the ArtScience Museum. More information available here