So, the Soundscapes posters on the tube now read ‘final weeks’ as the exhibition heads into the last 3 weeks of its run….in spite of the rather grumpy arts press, I have never received more comments/letters and emails from members of the pubic who have seen the show and loved it.
Many comment that the music and sound have encouraged them to spend time with the paintings, to really focus on a single work and get to know it, while others remark that they have seen paintings they knew in a new light. The exhibition has gone down particularly well with musicians and music lovers it seems, and I was delighted to hear reports that one day they were a number of sight impaired visitors to the show.
Soundscapes has also definitely increased and enhanced my own appreciation for music and sound art; I sat listening, fascinated, to a prom all about the Finnish composer Sibelius, who was of course a contemporary of the Finnish artist Gallen Kallela, by whom we have a painting- Lake Keitele- in the first room of the Soundscapes show (the only Finnish painting in the NG). In the painting of this freshwater lake north of Helsinki, you can observe strips of wind which have cut across the water in the foreground. Gallen-Kallela wanted this to suggest that these markings indicated the passage of the boat of the Finnish mythic hero Vainamoinen, who is the hero of the Finnnish book of mythology, the Kalevala. Sibelius also invoked Vainamoinen in his music, both composer and artist being ardent Finnish nationalists, at a time when Finland was not yet independent (it became so in 1917), but was trying to establish itself and its traditions. Chris Watson, in his response to Gallen-Kallela’s paintings, records the sounds that Gallen-Kallela would himself have heard when sitting by the lake painting the picture (he painted the view 4 times)- a soundscape he says would have been ‘embedded into the painting itself’ but which now have been lost as Lake Keitele is now a popular tourist resort, full of motorboats and waterskiers. Watson made the recordings for his piece in his native Northumberland, which is on the same latitude as Lake Keitele.
I shall be going down to the exhibition as much as I can over the next few weeks, aware as I am that all of the 6 new music commissions that feature in Soundscapes exist only for as long as the show is up- no CD, no recordings, since the pieces are meant to be heard in conjunction with the artwork. So do spread the word- come and look and listen and hopefully see the paintings from a new perspective.