museum sounds


any museum, really . . . subscribe[s] to an identical hushed-bank-vault authoritarianism that practically screams out for a more humanly scaled sensory corrective. And though contemporary-art museums occasionally break down and incorporate some audio artist’s work into their programming, or someone at a museum of cultural anthropology will set a low-volume loop of powwow songs running behind a tepee diorama, it rarely results in the kind of subjective experiential transformation you get from, say, looking at a roomful of Pollocks to the tune of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music.

And then along comes the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum’s attempt to harness this very niche of personal-reality modification using rentable infrared-sensitive headsets. Part of what makes “Sonic Scenery” so remarkable is its total unlikeliness. It isn’t that it’s such a radical idea — Morton Feldman’s 1971 Rothko Chapel is probably the most famous in a lineage of synesthetic art-making with roots dating back at least as far as Wagner and the multimedia extravaganzas of Diaghilev. In recent years, local interdisciplinary virtuoso Steve Roden composed site-specific soundtracks for, among other locales, Rudolph Schindler’s King’s Road House. London’s Victoria and Albert Museum commissioned soundtracks from a dozen or so contemporary musicians and artists for its 2004 exhibit “Shhh!” But the success of “Sonic Scenery” lies in the improbable fusing of unapologetic dorkiness and unimpeachable hippitude.

more from Doug Harvey at The LA Weekly here.