News Column

Exhibit will appeal to both eyes and ears

July 21, 2013

YellowBrix

July 21--The traditional ethos of a museum is similar to that of a library -- scholarly, serious and quiet.

You won't get any of that at "Now Hear This," an installation at the Honolulu Museum of Art Spalding House that explores the connection between visual art and music in a fun and interactive way.

"It's been interesting to bring in the artists and people from different fields and have them mix and mingle and interact," said Aaron Padilla, curator of education at Spalding House and designer of the exhibit.

Longtime visitors to the museum will recognize this immediately upon viewing the first piece of the exhibit, Harry Bertoia's "Sounding Sculpture, 1971," which used to be on display at the museum's main facility on Beretania Street. Visitors are encouraged to run their hands along the series of bronze and steel tubes, clanging them together to create a metallic cacophony.

"It's a really nice example of artists moving from the visual arts to something that is sound-oriented," Padilla said. "I remember coming to the museum on field trips as a kid, and that was there, and you'd hit it and run out the door. Everybody laughs when I say that because they're like, 'Yeah, I did that, too.'"

More advanced technology was required for "Noise Machine No. 1," created by Kyle and Cara Oba, a husband-and-wife team who produces apps and technology-driven art installations under the name Pas de Chocolat. The Noise Machine is described as a "three-dimensional, virtual sound playground that is activated by motion."

"It uses an Xbox Kinect controller, and then it scans movement in a space," Padilla said. People walking in front of the Xbox have their movements translated into musical notes that sound as if they're being created on a harpsichord. A real harpsichord, with a beautiful mural by Hawaii artist Jean Charlot on the lid, sits nearby.

"We're looking at the whole idea of the instrument as a piece of art," Padilla said, "Oftentimes when we think about music, we think about that piece and the virtuosity and the genius behind that, but actually there's an instrument that is part of that equation as well."

Musicians and dancers have been intrigued by the possibilities of the instrument, he said. "A number of people have been coming in and playing in the space and have been able to kind of organize the sound, other than just running around and making noise."

The modern phenomenon known as the music video figures prominently in the display, but rather than the ubiquitous pop singer with dancing girls in cheesy costumes, the videos in the display all employ stop-motion photography to bring inanimate objects to life.

"We really wanted to include music video in this exhibition because it's a perfect example of marrying music and visual arts together to create a completely different format and genre," Padilla said.

Padilla was able to acquire some of the objects used in the videos, such as two puppets used in "Weird Fishes," which featured dreamlike music by Radiohead and video by Tobias Stretch. The video was chosen by the group as its official entry in an open competition.

Some of the other videos include "Bounce Bounce," in which animator Hayley Morris created sea creatures out of everyday materials and set it to music by avant-garde composer Hauschka and performed by violin virtuoso Hillary Hahn; "Two Dots," a music video based on trigonometry by animator Britta Johnson and set to music by Lusine; and "Katachi," a video that plays with different shapes.

Such videos require a lot of technical know-how as well as hard work, Padilla said. "These things had to be constructed and drawn and arranged, and then a picture had to be taken of them."

The resulting videos are "visually more interesting and fun," he said. "Fun is a big part of this exhibition."

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