Exhibition review: Sounding Grainger

A collaborative endeavour that melds architecture and music.

The collaboration began with ideas shared, back and forth, on their individual pieces: the architect providing test images and short video sequences; the composer sharing sound bites and structure. This is the genesis for the exhibition, Sounding Grainger: Re-tuning and re-imagining a museum, currently at the Grainger Museum on the University of Melbourne grounds in Parkville.

The exhibition explores, in unconventional ways, the architectural and musical legacy of the Australian composer, virtuoso pianist, collector of folksongs, educator and pioneer of ‘free music,’ Percy Aldridge Grainger. 

Built in 1938, the red brick, Art Deco façade of the Museum has a sturdy, almost fortress-like presence. In contrast, the interior opens into a white-washed foyer with polished floorboards and arched arterial spaces that radiate out in a circular fashion, giving the visitor a sense of a journey that ultimately ends up where it begins. The empty corridors with sounds based on a two-minute sound loop, amplify the ghosting effect. Silence – the spaces between the sounds – is an important part of the composition.

Built to house Grainger’s personal collections, including art, costumes, photographs, musical scores, music machines and the works of other composers, the museum is currently being reimagined as a space for experimentation and cultural exploration.

Completely emptied of its collection, except for one of Grainger’s music machines and a grand piano, the gallery becomes ‘a laboratory for explorations.’ Reinterpreting the museum’s architecture and its ghosts, through sound and digital imaging, the sound installation explores ‘the sonic quality of the spaces, while the video installation dissects the building and its context.’ 

Read: Exhibition review: Kyneton Contemporary Art Triennial

The collaborative piece, The Ghost of Grainger (2022), situated in the foyer of the building, is a multidisciplinary work between composer Sydney Miller, a Bachelor of Music (Interactive Composition), Honours student at the University of Melbourne, and Rochus Hinkel, Associate Professor at the Melbourne School of Design.

Miller’s composition is a multi-channel soundscape inspired by, and in response to, the physical architecture of the building and video composition, while Hinkel’s piece is a 3D scan consisting of 80 million point cloud images, morphing software, fly-throughs that create transparent buildings, and 3D models based on the sound composition. This combined sound and visual work aims to capture something of the stories ‘of space, time and ghosts’ of the building and the man it commemorates.

Hinkel speaks of the composition being structured like an opera in three acts, ‘the first act introduces the building and its context; the second one is in its interior and presents a triptych, three visual voices, and the last act is the dramatic final,’ becoming a purely abstract composition. The piece runs for a total of six minutes. 

Part of Melbourne Design Week 2022, a collaboration between the Victorian Government and the NGV, Sounding Grainger is an ambitious project that will require the visitor to reflect on new and different ways of imagining gallery spaces. 

Although supported by some text labels and didactic panels, additional contextual material in the gallery setting would provide understanding for a broader audience and further support the exhibition.

Sounding Grainger: re-tuning and re-imagining a museum, Grainger Museum, University of Melbourne will be on exhibit until 26 March 2022.

Free entry.
The space is wheelchair friendly and rest rooms are available.

Mem Capp is a Melbourne artist and writer.