Sound art or site-specific sound installations can be tricky things. Often it is of case of an apologetic “You had to be there, really” or a zealous “You weren’t there, man!” The more site-specific they are, the more chance there is that, when removed from that setting, they lose something; they don’t travel well. The best ones, however, can effectively take you back to the space they were designed for, can put you back into the zone much more so than any glossy exhibition catalogue or post-card set. The very best ones can do this even if you weren’t there in the first place.
Here are three of my favourites.
“When Loud Weather Buffeted Naoshima” was written specifically for the Naoshima Fukutake Art Museum and performed by the frankly stella line-up of Clive Bell, Christian Fennesz, Arve Henriksen, Akira Rabelais, and, of course, David Sylvian. The piece had a limited release on CD, and it is of note that David Sylvian has said that being so site specific, the piece wasn’t complete unless the sounds of the original environment were incorporated into the listening experience. To that end, these feature on the CD version. In the release notes, Mr S notes that “Whilst this obviously doesn’t compare to the experience of listening to the work in situ, it goes some way towards creating an echo of it.”
Listening to “When Loud Weather….” half a world away, I am transported to an imagined version of Naoshima, deserted, suspended in time much like one of those PC games from the 90’s in which the idea was to wander around a beautiful landscape and just, well, be. Here the illusion is so much more complete, more detailed, more immersive. I could live here.
Unlike Naoshima Fukutake Art Museum, which I have not been to (yet), the In Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres is a place I have been to a number of times. It is, by far, the best and most rounded museum covering the human experience of the sadly misnamed war to end all wars. Undoubtedly adding to the whole experience is the soundtrack, on permanent loop throughout the museum, available on CD in the gift-shop. Unobtrusive yet still there, the piece, with its long-noted repetition, certainly does its job of enhancing the solemn, contemplative nature of a visit to this fantastic museum. With the subdued lighting and the cleverly personal nature of the displays, the overall effect is to make time stand still: we are caught forever in this awful moment of history.
Removed from its natural habitat, “Ypres” still ‘works’. If anything, the depth and beauty created by the very subdued nature of the work (in stark comparison to Tindersticks’s usual go-big approach to small things) make it just as at home in the confines of your living room or headphones as it is in the church-like interior of the Cloth Hall in Ypres town square.
In February of this year, a nineteenth-century rectory in Detroit was given over for one night only to an event entitled Cagliostro – A Haunted Exhibition. Not only did I not go, unlike the other two exhibits above, I can never go to this one. What I do have though, is the soundtrack to the event by A Death Cinematic. In itself, this release is a work of art. The superior packaging, all hand-made by Mr A D C himself, is of the highest standard and to be treasured. It’s like handling a curio from Cagliostro’s own collection. It is occult, possessed of a power invested in it by its creator and able to alter the consciousness of all who come under its influence. The soundtrack itself is brooding, magnificent, and transportive. The shear splendour of the physical product means that, unlike “When Loud Weather…” and “Ypres”, “Cagliostro” comes in its own site. Break the seal, remove the CD from the wooden tray, start the ritual of listening.