Destined to come to Burnie

BY BRENDAN SMITH

Ben Quilty, Torana (2004). Courtesy of the artist and Jan Murphy Gallery.

It feels like the NFSA’s next The Art of Sound exhibition, currently being installed at Burnie Regional Art Gallery in north-western Tasmania, was meant to be.

Our Big Screen touring film festival has been part of the Burnie Shines festival for over a decade, screening Australian films at the Metro Cinemas. This connection led to the staging of a live touring show, Cooee Cabaret, for a sell-out show at the Burnie Arts and Function Centre in February 2012. This in turn saw the collaboration with the Burnie Regional Art Gallery for The Art of Sound, which will see artworks from the gallery’s permanent collection curated with sound recordings from the NFSA’s sound collection.

Gallery curator Randolph Wylie and his team have been working hard for many months, listening to the Art of Sound ‘sound palette’ and familiarising themselves with the many recordings selected for the project, and curating works from their collection for the final exhibition.

Opening Friday 9 May, the exhibition will feature well known and award-winning Australian artists such as Ben Quilty, Martin Sharp and Robert Dickerson, and sound recordings as diverse as a horserace call, The Skyhooks’ ‘Horror Movie’, acoustic improvisations in a concrete tank, a chatty and demonic budgie from the 1930s and hip-hop from the Hilltop Hoods.

As well as hanging the selected artworks in the Burnie gallery, staff from the NFSA and our partner, the University of Technology Sydney, will be installing innovative and unusual sound equipment as part of the exhibition, so that visitors can experience both the curated artworks and sounds simultaneously. These include ‘sound domes’ under which visitors stand to get a focused, localised experience of the curated sound, and ultrasonic speakers that effectively turn a gallery visitor into a speaker as the sound waves emitted by the speaker reach them. So the ‘soundscape’ created by the whispered combinations of different sounds is always different and evolving as visitors move through the exhibition.

Sound domes at the Caboolture edition of The Art of Sound

Photo by Brendan Smith

It will be exciting to install this fourth exhibition this week, including some sounds that have been used in several previous exhibitions (Billie Peach the budgie, ‘Bombora’ by The Atlantics and Archie Roach’s ‘Took The Children Away’) and some totally new ones (Johnny O’Keefe’s ‘She’s My Baby’ and The Nth Planet, a 1950s science-fiction radio play).

It will also be great to be back in Burnie following the success of Cooee Cabaret several years ago and the annual Big Screen festival as part of Burnie Shines.

Burnie, here we come!