06 July 2010

Rhythm is a dncr

Thursday saw the opening of the new season of events at the Science Gallery, Biorhythm, focusing on the relationship and interaction between music and the body, and thus I wandered down dutifully, camera in tow, to brave the thronging hordes which surprisingly were rather larger and more free-drink-focused than those at the opening night of Hyperbolic Crochet, and also slightly more male, young, and tragically hip with the haircuts and the fashion and the whatnot.

Sometimes I wonder if I am too much of a demographic, like when you open up the Guardian on a Saturday to see a musician (who's album you just bought) commenting on a book (you just read) while sitting in a cafe (you just ate in yesterday) and condemning a public figure (you just accepted a commission from) for betraying their working-class roots (by doing the thing you've just been commissioned to do on their behalf), with a shiny new gadget sitting beside them on the glossy table in the accompanying photograph (that you just bought yourself to assuage your guilt over your imminent betrayal of the proletariat), that sort of thing. The Science Gallery is like that writ large for me, most explicitly with this current exhibition.

I am, as you may know, a collector of musical things. I cannot read music, I cannot play the piano or guitar, and thus I have a fascination/obsession with musical instruments for non-musicians. From old-school programmable all-in-one synths like the Roland 505 and a Korg Electribe or two I have steadily progressed by way of 80's keytar-esque gold like the Suzuki Omnichord and oddities like the Vestax Faderboard through to the rather more enjoyable and altogether Tron-like Lemur, Tenori-On and cantina-band experience of the Eigenharp Pico. Most recently I have been enjoying Korg's latest shiny thing, the Kaossilator Pro, full to the brim with touchy-feely goodness. It was thus with no small amount of child-like giddiness that I approached Biorhythm on Thursday last.

As you enter the exhibition you are immediately greeted by a Reactable, Bjork's favourite multi-touch collaborative tool, voted "Instrument most likely to help you plan an assault on the Death Star" following her successful 2007 Volta tour, and the source of much envy and lust when I saw it used live in Glastonbury and Belfast. While my more talented friends have made a rather good go of making their own multi-touch interfaces using little more than a cardboard box and a web-cam, it was still very nice indeed to get some hands-on time with what comes close to the Platonic ideal of a shiny-happy-touchy noise maker.

The real joy of the exhibit though is the non-commercial and more esoteric experiments, installations and circuit-bending offerings on display, ranging from a Lego sequencer through to immaculately turned wooden instruments armed with colour-detecting cameras that play different notes depending on the colour they are exposed to, with theremins and sonic-beds and body-circuits (oh my!) along the way. Sounds from one part of the exhibit are filtered through to headphones in another, turning the visitors themselves into a composition, and apparently the stairs between gallery floors have been converted into a giant midi-interface.

I say 'apparently' because the only flaw of the evening was that it was, in fact, too successful, and the sheer volume of attendees meant that it was almost impossible to hear many of the installations to any degree of satisfaction. This is an exhibition to be enjoyed with as few people around as possible, and that will be a challenge if the numbers on opening night are any indication of its popularity, though as it is running until the start of October I'm sure you'll manage to find the odd quiet(er) moment. If quieter moments aren't your thing it will also be on tour at Electric Picnic in September.

If you do go down make sure you participate in "Emotion in Motion" one of the two experiments being run throughout the exhibition's run, which seeks to compare and contrast the mind's reaction to music with the body's; you may tell everyone you hate the Venga Boys, but when the Venga Bus starts coming does your body betray you and start bopping away like an embarrassing Aunt at your cousin's wedding after one too many G&Ts? The experiment forms part of the doctoral research of our good friend and frequent commentator here on Booming Back, 2Bit, and builds upon his work into emotional responses triggered by music that we posted on back in 2008. With the results of this in his sweaty little hands he will finally progress from Master of the Sonic Arts to full Doctor, earning the ultimate accolade of becoming an unlockable character in Battle Arena Toshinden and generating a nice little side-line in licensing obscure-slogan t-shirts and vinyl-moulded spiky-haired collectable dolls.

There's a fun little book, 'Toy Instruments', that details Eric Schneider's personal collection of music-producing children's toys from the 50's through to today (think Teddy Ruxpin on a stylophone and you wont be far wrong), and at times I worry that my own collection veers dangerously towards the novelty end of the instrument pool, and given the dust collecting on some of the gear it most definitely sits altogether too-comfortably in the museum-exhibit-hasn't-been-played-for-years category. However coming back from Biorhythm I was inspired/cajoled/prodded into taking stuff down off the shelf, blowing off the cobwebs and firing up the tubes, and remembering why I got into obscure musical instruments in the first place.

To pretend I'm a musician without having to do any of the hard work, like learning how to read and/or play any actual music.

Biorhythm at the Science Gallery
Photos from opening night

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At 12:40 pm, Blogger Snag Breac said...

You make me laugh so much Dave!
Nice post. Exhibition sounds great.
Keep up the music making!

At 3:25 pm, Blogger 2BiT said...

It's YOUR sweaty little hands I'm interested in folks! that and your hearts (minds to follow)


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