Soundscapes at the National Gallery
The simple concept of creating a soundtrack for a painting is the theme behind the latest exhibition at the National Gallery. The old masters can now be viewed through fresh eyes – that is, fresh “ears” – to the tune of music inspired by paintings from all corners of the gallery’s collection.
The ears as well as the eyes are required for this multi-sensory experience. Each of the six composers has chosen a work of art residing in the National Gallery, and used it as inspiration to create a piece of music. Six darkened rooms host the resulting sounds, with minimal light used to illuminate the paintings. The chosen works span 500 years of art, while the accompanying music varies from chamber choir-inspired melodies to modern dance music.
For the most part, the music is not something you would listen to of your own volition. Susan Philipsz’s jarring strings, designed to create an anxious atmosphere, actually result in something slightly monotonous. The accompaniment to Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s Lake Keitele is almost entirely wildlife sounds, despite the fact that no such wildlife appears in the image. The variation of paintings and music is uninspired at times. The religion-infused painting St Jerome in His Study is accompanied by choral music, as is The Wilton Diptych. These slightly obvious allusions to the subject matter do not honour the novel idea behind the exhibition, and the outcome is something that adds very little to the viewing experience.
The exhibition is most successful when it experiments with the original concept. The room that houses the impressionist painting Coastal Scene by Théo van Rysselberghe is also host to Jamie xx’s light dance beats. The incongruity of this match succeeds in creating a new facet of the painting: it no longer shows just a serene sea view, but implies a space beyond the sea that is heard but not seen. The aim of the exhibition is to open innovative channels for the artworks, and to illuminate them from a new point of view. For the most part, however, it is the idea behind the exhibition that succeeds, rather than the exhibition itself.
Soundscapes is at the National Gallery from 8th July until 8th September 2015, for further information visit here.