This summer, my first spent entirely in Europe, I’ve played at being a professional festivalgoer. That meant bidding farewell to the Sydney Opera House and seeing the insides of a lot of concert halls. In Aix-en-Provence, I was blasted to the back of the stalls by the brass section in the Grand Théâtre de Provence, then huddled under a blanket under the stars in the open-air Théâtre de l’Archevêché. In the Grosses Festspielhaus Salzburg, I screamed ‘Bravo!’ at the timpanist in the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra’s Mahler, and spent the following night marvelling at arches hewn out of rock in the cavernous Felsenreitschule.
All prestigious venues, all powerful experiences. But none of them made me smile quite like the Jean Barberis-curated Concert Hall installation, currently on display at the Palais de Tokyo’s summer exhibition, Nouvelles Vagues.
The placard describes a ‘monster installation’, but it’s worth pointing out that we’re dealing with a small-scale, friendly monster. Exploring the gallery’s vast, concrete interiors, I come across a ramshackle hut, probably no bigger than my 20 metre-squared Parisian studio, constructed by the Rabid Hands collective and Brooklyn-based Sunita Prasad using found objects and materials rescued from landfill. You couldn’t fit an orchestra in. Still, cacophony beckons.
Entrez; it’s like stepping inside a magical, malfunctioning music box. Though of course, everything in this cave-like interior is functioning intricately: automated glockenspiels tinkle away, an accordion hangs suspended from the ceiling, a set of heavy old hardbacks are transformed into a bass as part of a robotic rhythm section complete with mechanised drumsticks. Tangled wires, knobs and dials take over the space like the inside of a greenhouse left to grow wild. If Kubrick’s HAL 9000 had just chilled out and started a one-man band, it might have turned out a little something like this. The ghost in the machine twitches to life through a computer linked to a MIDI system, triggered by and interacting with visitors’ movements.
But the best surprise is that the surround-sound musical results are really rather lovely –far from stiff and robotic, it’s as if the robots gathered together for a tea party. Fans of Múm and The Books will appreciate the tuneful, glitchy folktronica by Julien Gasc, Nick Yulman and Ranjit Bhatnagar.
As part of the multidisciplinary collaboration that cobbled all this together, there are kaleidoscopic video installations and flashing lights by maya.rouvelle and Frédéric Durieu; unnecessary in my opinion, but nonetheless making a trip to the concert hall a delightful sensory overload. Patrons, please be advised that this production uses large amounts of charm and whimsy.
See Concert Hall as part of the Palais de Tokyo’s Nouvelles Vagues exhibition, running until 9 September, 2013. Photos by Aurélien Mole.