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Installation review: Songs to Experience, Perth Festival

A site-specific marriage of sound and image based around musician Ta-ku’s forthcoming album.

Songs to Experience showcases Ta-ku’s forthcoming album of the same name in a unique format: a multi-sensory installation as part of Perth Festival. Occupying the first two floors of Perth’s Lawson Apartments, a 1937 Art Deco heritage-listed building, each room is designed around a different piece of music. These whimsical creative spaces are presented by Ta-ku in collaboration with friends.

Featured on Ta-ku’s 2015 album Songs to Make Up To, ‘Work in Progress’ plays like it’s being composed on a piano in the room next door. The tune winds around itself, lyrics crooned as though the artist was musing over just the right word. The various sounds of a tap, a finger-snap, and a cassette being changed permeate throughout. Ta-ku’s rich mix of musical influences, combined with his repertoire as a multi-disciplinary artist, gives his music complexity. You might not blast them out at a house party, but many of them will sit with you thoughtfully while leaning against the kitchen bench watching the city go by. 

Each room is visually and sonically compelling. What makes this immersive installation truly special, however, is that each room asks the viewer to physically interact with the music in subtle but thoughtful ways. In the ‘Terminal’ – a mini airport baggage collection where the announcer asks you to ‘take your memories, but don’t forget to leave some things behind’ – guests are handed a “Visitor Guide” from Ta-ku World Air: a map of the exhibition itself. On the ground floor, guests can sit in a small telephone cubby with a cabled telephone and a notepad. Picking up the receiver prompts the ‘operator’ to tell you to press any key. Each key plays a different song; pressing zero prompts the message ‘welcome home’.

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The ‘Mood Machine’ on level one is a large, mostly empty space where the visuals projected on the surrounding walls move in time with the music. In the middle of the room is a small dial on a podium; turning the dial changes the audio and the visual. Most combinations are graphical and colourful, but one turn fills the room with home footage of friends and loved ones.

‘Shirinda Residence’ is a calm, cylinder-like bedroom overlooking a digital display of a blue landscape, complete with a perfectly placed pair of pink sneakers. The welcoming and tactile atmosphere of Songs to Experience is such that the children in attendance promptly sat on the bed to chat – somehow completing the picture. The ‘Two of Us’ room, with its slow-paced romantic ballad, is a vibrant and colourful dining room perfectly framed for a social media picture. Yet while sitting at the table opposite another person, you’ll find that their face will be obscured from view by paraphernalia. 

The rooms at Lawson Apartments aren’t soundproofed, so as you walk through the hallways between each one the tracks layer each other comfortably, and there’s no specific order in which to explore through the space. Much like ‘Work in Progress’, one gets the sense that Ta-ku (and friends) wanted to delight in the accidental emotive affects that might come from this natural exploration of sound and space.

Songs to Experience is an unusual kind of exhibition, but with what it sets out to do it’s hard to find fault. If there is an artistic balm to the uneasy and isolated tenor of the last two years, this might be it. It’s welcoming, beautiful, playful, and encourages a kind of physical immersion in art and creativity that is a true joy to experience.

Ta-ku and friends: Songs to experience
Lawson Apartments, Perth

Artists: Ta-ku in collaboration with Pretty Soon, Gesture Systems, Ian Kanik, Acid Flowers, Joe Kenneth, PPPanik, Jessica Ticchio, Joe Mortell, Fustic Studios, Sam Price, Beamhacker, Serwah Attafuah, Carla Zimbler, Chang Liu, Sam Mallari, Your Cousin Avi, Steve Berrick, Mindy Ossi, Noé, Cabu, Swoo, Matt McWaters, Hopes & Dreams Club

Tickets: $26-$29

Taku and friends: Songs to experience will be presented as part of Perth Festival until 6 March 2022

Heather Blakey is a PhD candidate at the University of Western Australia, researching affect and aesthetics in video games and digital communication. She is a strategic communications professional specialising in the publishing and writing industry, and has worked for academic and commercial brands in Australia and the UK. Twitter: @hmblakey