|'Making Music Modern', with William Dixon's kinetophone film greeting visitors on entry|
The design wing of MoMA. It's on the third floor. If you've been to MoMA more than once, you've definitely been in there. It's one of the museum's most overlooked spaces, rarely hosting major exhibitions, sandwiched between the major exhibition spaces on the second floor and the permanent collection on the fourth and fifth floors. You're excused if you've walked by it. But it's always worth a look. Unfortunately right now it's not quite worth a listen.
'Making Music Modern: Design for Ear and Eye' runs until November 1, 2015. As an exhibit, it demonstrates how popular music since the late 1800s has influenced designers and artists, who created imagery around it, or devices with which to listen to it. There's an iPod shaped like a crucifix, a number of posters and album covers of major 20th century musicians, 1960s inflatable furniture which "embodies the revolutionary spirit of its time", musical instruments and mixing equipment, and even a phonograph, a creation of Thomas Edison's, the first device to be able to both record and play back music.
"Music is this invisible, intangible medium, but we couldn't hear or relate to it other than through design and architecture," curator Juliet Kinchin told The New York Times, and a part of this is how music relates both to the moving image and its display. Indeed, in a small gallery space, it is hardly possible to use several audio tracks, even when the topic is music; the audio bleed would be abysmal. And since you can't really show moving images that relate to music without actually playing that audio, all of the audio in 'Making Music Modern' is attached to the three moving image screens spread through the gallery. And, to be blunt, it's a bit of a disaster.
The first A/V work, hanging from a screen directly to your left as you enter the gallery, is motion picture pioneer William Kennedy Dixon's kinetophone sound project (1894-95). It is a hugely important work, the first known attempt at the synchronisation of moving image and sound. The short film, barely 20 seconds long, features a man playing a violin into a photograph cone, while two men waltz clumsily in a circle to his music. Dixon's experiment was somewhat of a failure - he was unable to sync the wax cylinder recording with the film. But both survived, and in 1998 Library of Congress curator Patrick Loughney was able to repair damage to the cylinder and finally sync the works.
|The Scopitone, behind and to the right a video of Scopitone films|
|Colour-faded Scopitone film. Digitised image of speaker almost visible on left.|
|Background animations for Adventures of an * are a welcome addition in the gallery space|
|Three museum visitors sit on the bench in front of the three animated films, all of them with their backs to the works.|