A Long Way to go on the Sound Track

Via Daily Telegraph

By Richard Wolfson

Since 2000 the V&A has hosted a series of successful music nights, inviting leftfield performers into the hallowed gallery spaces. Now they've asked 10 musicians and artists, from ex-Talking Heads frontman David Byrne to Turner Prize winner Gillian Wearing, to provide an "audio response" to spaces in the museum. The punter must don headphones and locate the oblong electronic gadgets that trigger the sounds when one walks past.

Cornelius, the Japanese rock musician, provides an appropriately glassy soundtrack to the glass collection; chiming electric piano tones interlock as one strolls around the sometimes kitsch exhibits, and the sudden sound of smashing glass is a witty turn. Also amusing, David Byrne has placed his interventions in the less glamorous areas of the museum. A symphony of splashes and rhythmic cistern flushes accompanies a visit to one of the listed latrines, while amid the usual museum background noise a panting voice starts to whisper in your ear.

In more exalted mood, Liz Fraser, the ex-Cocteau Twins chanteuse, sings a wordless hymn to the Raphael Cartoons, while Simon Fisher Turner transforms a ceramics room into an atmospheric Mediterranean square.

Some of the artists seem intent on providing an anti-soundtrack that disrupts one's experience of the art works and spaces. Jeremy Deller accompanies a young girl around the Chinese collection, and we hear her comments - she knows how to say goodbye in six languages. Jane and Louise Wilson populate the dramatic Cast Court with the sounds of children climbing a structure, while Gillian Wearing gives the Bromley-by-Bow room a lengthy interview with a museum employee who is obsessed with the past (and this room).

In an attempt to provide more sympathetic soundtracks, musicians Faultline and Leila present elegant techno workouts; they are fine in themselves, but the experience is no different from wandering around a gallery listening to the latest techno tracks on a personal stereo. Coming from behind, and a surprise contender for stealing the show, is hip hop artist Roots Manuva: the elaborate gilt and multiple mirrors of the Norfolk House Music Room become the setting for a Hammer Horror vampire flick, as the singer invokes Armageddon with a terrifying apocalyptic rant.

This is the V&A's first "sound exhibition"; though occasionally diverting, one can't help feeling there's a long way to go before Britain really does justice to the technical innovation and aesthetic weight out there in the international world of sound art.

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