The installation of the Soundscapes exhibition was the most complicated I have worked on during my 14 years at the National Gallery! Its hard to believe when there is only one painting going in each room but technically the sound insulation and the construction of the sound corridors (both done to minimise the sound bleed between rooms) were very challenging to build.
The wonderful Bowers & Wilkins speakers were installed relatively easily by comparison and only moved about a little bit, by the artists and musicians, who wanted on occasion to ‘sculpt’ the sound in a different way in their room. After a stressful 2 weeks the fabric of the rooms was ready and then it was time for all the artists and musicians to come into the gallery and begin to work on mixing their musical /sound piece in the space itself.
Nico Muhly had a wonderful sound designer who spent a lot of hours trying to get Nico’s piece sounding just right in his right- I kept hearing him ask for ‘less re- verb’ or ‘strengthen that a bit’ – to me, it was a bit like a painter who lifts colours and highlights areas.
Other rooms were more straightforward- Susan Philipsz had only 3 channels and 3 notes being played through them so it didn’t take long to get the levels right…..by contrast, in Gabriel Yared’s room there were actual speakers on plinths arranged at the height of the instruments they represent.
These had to be moved out to the sides away from the centre of the room, once Gabriel Yared’s sound designer began to work because as he pointed out, the speaker and plinth that represented the soprano voice were so tall they obscured the painting! Jamie xx had been so busy up until that point – with Glastonbury and the Manchester International Festival- that he arrived at 8 pm on the Sunday before the show opened and worked until 6.20 am the following morning to mix his piece in the space! Titled ‘Ultramarine’ it’s a mesmerising and totally hypnotic track that, as the last room of the exhibition, creates a very uplifting finale to the show.
Minna Moore Ede (curator of Soundscapes)