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Sounds of the Gallery

Issued: October 2009

Painting is a silent art but the best painters engage all our senses. They are concerned with the illusion of space, conveying texture and evoking smell and with rhythm, tone and harmony… ...Sounds of the Gallery

The National Gallery is launching the Sounds of the Gallery tour on Friday 30 October.

This is a new audio gallery tour for which pieces of sound art have been created in direct response to paintings in the collection.

Responses come from sound artists such as Jem Finer, whose Longplayer was recently performed at the Roundhouse in London; film composer Simon Fisher Turner; musician and sound curator David Toop; and wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson, who was the founding member of the experimental group Cabaret Voltaire. Works also come from students at Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication who have participated in a new Gallery project Transcriptions: Sound.

The sound pieces on this tour will allow an imaginative engagement with works in the collection and provide an opportunity for visitors to think about how painters strive to engage all our senses.

Well-known paintings from the National Gallery’s collection, including Monet’s Thames below Westminster, Constable’s Cornfield and Gauguin’s Vase of Flowers, were used as inspiration for the pieces of work.

Jem Finer, who chose Monet’s Thames below Westminister as his inspiration, explains, ‘There is something slightly odd about composing for a painting. They are undeniably silent but far from mute. I thought of the river as a drone, a constant through history and as a sound about which composition would revolve. It was hard to make recordings in situ. At all times of the day and night traffic was present, bleeding on to my tapes. Even below the waters there was no escape from noise pollution… In the end I made the recordings in the middle of the night when at least the boats were silent.’

Transcriptions: Sound is an innovative collaboration between the National Gallery and Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication in which BA (hons) Broadcasting (Sound Design) students are invited to respond to a painting of their choice in the Gallery’s collection.

Alex Campbell, one of the participating Ravensbourne students, chose Turner’s Fighting Temeraire. He says of his response, ‘Initially, my piece mirrors the glow of the sunset. Resonant oranges and yellows flood the sky as the Temeraire is led to her death. The great ship appears ghostly, a shadow of her former fighting days. My sound piece weaves the sinister nature of ‘end of days’ with the Temeraire’s physical majesty.’

When the Gallery was founded in 1824, one of its stated aims was to provide a resource for the inspiration of artists. Never did anyone say that this should be limited to visual artists and it is always exciting to break down barriers between different artistic disciplines.

For press information contact Nicola Jeffs 7747 2532

Events in the Gallery on Friday 30 October Celebrate the Launch of Sounds of the Gallery

Memling’s Nine Cranes – Simon Fisher Turner
Friday 30 October, 6–6.50pm
Room 63
Admission free

6–6.20pm: Join James Heard (National Gallery Education) for a short talk about the reverses of Memling’s panels of Saint John the Baptist and Saint Lawrence, which formed the shutters for an altarpiece. These beautiful landscape scenes with nine cranes (the emblem of the Florentine patron) would have been enjoyed in contemplative silence when the altarpiece was closed between services.

6.20–6.50pm: Simon Fisher Turner performs his piece created in response to these panels for the new Sounds of the Gallery tour, followed by music inspired by their original church setting.
Simon Fisher Turner composed the soundtracks for Derek Jarman’s films, including Caravaggio and Blue. Throughout his career he has produced increasingly exploratory soundscapes on albums such as Swift (2002) and Lana, Lata, Lara (2005).

In recent years he has created music for Frank Gehry’s summer pavilion at the Serpentine Gallery and a new soundscape for the silent film, I Was Born But… [the ellipsis are part of the title](1932) by acclaimed Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu.

Constable's 'Cornfield' – Chris Watson
Friday 30 October, 7–7.30pm
Room 34
Admission free

Musician and leading wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson will discuss the sounds of wildlife and weather in The Cornfield and the changes in sound pollution since Constable’s time. He will end with a performance of the piece he has written in response to this painting for the new Sounds of the Gallery tour.

Chris Watson was a founding member of the influential experimental music group Cabaret Voltaire. His sound recording career began in 1981.

Watson is now one of the world’s leading wildlife and natural sound recordists with numerous television credits that include David Attenborough’s The Life of Birds for BBC TV, which won the BAFTA Award for Best Factual Sound 1998, and several albums released by Touch.