Modernist immersive sound with Art Gallery of NSW

Photo of device at Hermitage Exhibition

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How many people can say they’ve performed alongside the works of Picasso, Matisse, Monet and Kandinsky? The digital and physical realms collided for Sydney Festival 2019 when musicians Corin Ileto, Casey Hartnett, and our very own Becky Sui Zhen performed their ambient multi-instrumental compositions for Masters of Modern Sound.

Few people have the opportunity to visit the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, Russia. So when 65 modern masterpieces by the likes of Monet, Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso and Kandinsky made their way to Sydney for the Masters of Modern Art from the Hermitage exhibition, the Art Gallery of NSW needed an audio experience that complemented the ground-breaking collection.

Art Processors had previously partnered with the Gallery to create a scalable audio guide for the John Russell exhibition. This time, we had a more linear brief: to deliver an immersive audio tour complete with musical soundscapes and interpretive stop-based narration relating to key themes within the exhibition.

Working with the gallery’s curatorial and digital engagement teams, we created the Masters Audio Guide, a location-aware audio tour that blended expert storytelling with an original exhibition score to give musical voice to the artworks on display.

Visitor listening to audio guide at the Hermitage exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW.

Music for Picasso

Opportunities to score music for an exhibition featuring the biggest names in art don’t come along frequently. Fortunately, we’d done it before.

Musicians Corin Ileto, Casey Hartnett, and our very own Becky Sui Zhen—Sound and Music Supervisor at Art Processors—who composed and produced the elegant exhibition score for the John Russell Audio Experience, returned to the studio to create the soundtrack for the Masters Audio Guide. This time, their brief was to create an atmospheric exhibition score that captured the striking shapes, lines and colours of these early modernist works.

The trio employed minimal ambient synths, piano and voice to create an emotive musical landscape, producing tracks for each section of the exhibition along with underlying music for each of the 12 narrative audio stops.

When visitors put on their headphones and entered the exhibition, the mesmerising ambient synths carried them from room to room, changing seamlessly to communicate the different themes and artists, and helping visitors to focus on the artwork at hand.

Masters of Modern Sound performance at Art Gallery of NSW

The live experience

Ileto, Zhen and Hartnett also had the privilege of performing their immersive soundscape as a live score within the Masters of modern art from the Hermitage exhibition space as part of Sydney Festival 2019.

The after dark event staged throughout the Gallery brought together boundary-pushing composers and music from Australia and around the world, including sound design from long time David Lynch collaborator Dean Hurley and movement from Force Majeure dancer Danielle Micich.

“It was a really special event. The live performance allowed visitors to experience the exhibition score that we had created live while viewing the works that inspired it. It was an amazing marriage of what we had achieved digitally, leveraging the music we had created with the physical works on the walls,” said Zhen.

There was also an intergenerational aspect to it. New audiences came to the show, opening up the Gallery to a diverse range of people who might not have otherwise visited the exhibition.”

Acknowledgement of Country

In the spirit of reconciliation, we acknowledge the many Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and honour Elders past, present and emerging. We respect their deep, enduring connection to their lands, waterways and surrounding clan groups since time immemorial. We cherish the richness of First Nations Peoples’ artistic and cultural expressions.