Miskatonic University Press

Julian Opie soundtracking his shows

art john.cage listening.to.art

A Brush with … Julian Opie is a good episode of The Art Newspaper’s “A Brush with” podcast. I knew nothing about Julian Opie before, but enjoyed browsing his web site and hope to see a show one day.

There’s some talk about what Opie listens to when he’s working. He likes spa music, nature sounds, that sort of thing … Ben Luke, the interviewer, helpfully mentions ambient music, Brian Eno and John Cage.

Opie then talks about some music he’s made to be played at his shows:

I’ve made some soundtracks, and I played them in a museum show I made in Tokyo last year. One was a computer program that my clever assistant came up with that translates the sound of a blackbird into a piano note. I’m not the first person to do such a thing, but what maybe hasn’t generally been done quite so much before is to make an algorithm from that. We took the various tweets of the blackbird, looked at that as a set of algorithms, took the notes, and turned that into piano sounds and ran it as a constant random algorithm that plays throughout the time that you’re in the exhibition. Part of my reason for doing that was that I noticed when I went to look at the museum that everyone was going around clicking their camera at the exhibition (not mine, the previous one) and it made this constant sound: kssh kssh, kssh-k-kssh. Plus the click of high-heeled shoes, and I thought, that’s kind of interesting, but it’s not very much to do with me. I didn’t control that. I’d rather write my own soundtrack, so I did that with the blackbirds. And I did some more, and I may well be, you’ll see, if you come and see this exhibition at Pitzhanger Manor in Ealing, whether I am thinking of maybe doing something similar here in order to animate the spaces here, and to give a sense of atmosphere, which music can do like nothing else. But it won’t be a piece of music, it’ll be something more like some kind of an algorithm that will play constantly and be evocative.

It’s striking that he was aware of and attentive to the sounds people were making in the exhibit (at least, cameras and heels), but thought, “It’s not very much to do with me. I didn’t control that.” So he made his own soundtrack, imposing his own music on the space and the visitors.