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Orchestral Manoeuvres at the ArtScience Museum

Besides the grandeur of its architecture, the ArtScience Museum is a place where seasonal exhibitions are put up for periods of time. From 28th August to 2nd January, Marina Bay Sands is hosting an exhibition called, “Orchestral Manoeuvres: See Sound. Feel Sound. Be Sound.” The exhibit, bringing together 32 composers and contemporary artists from across the world is an engaging blend between arts and sound. Last Friday, fellow writers Yin, Gin and I (kimizomi) had the privilege to be invited to a media preview of the exhibition and we’re happy to review some of the best bits with you! If you’re wondering too how anime might come into place within this exhibition, you’ll be surprised at some of the things that we might pick out! 

Orchestral Manoeuvres is held on a level with a circular structure. It would take us through the different exhibits around the area in one circle around the place. This reminds me of how sound is surround, like in a theatre. The location is definitely nicely chosen.  

Robert Morris’ Box with the Sound of Its Own Making, 1961.

You wouldn’t think that such simple boxes like these had the power to contain sounds in it, would you? Well, there’s more to this than meets the eye! One of the concrete stones dates back to 1977, when a German composer Timm Ulrich uses the idea of radio signals as the theme of ‘sound’. There’s a certain nostalgia and simplicity in the crackling radio noise that simply sends us back to a time when radio was one of the main tools of communication.
Another interesting to note about the design of the three different boxes: the length of the soundtrack is equivalent to the length of the box itself! How cool is that!

Writing Sound: John Cage

Alas, one of the main attractions of the exhibition: the piano. Sitting right in the middle of the room is a piano, stationary and almost volatile. Yet, we were stunned when it began to play a rather comprehensive piece, filled with breaths of staccato in between. It certainly feels like the piece is reverberating throughout the entire exhibit. 

The piece comes to be 4’33, by John Cage. It refers to the total length in minutes and seconds of the performance, and the piece has widely inspired a greater audience, even athletes. It’s amazing to know how much music can transcend beyond a single medium, and reproduce in other forms. 

If you wanna know just how impressive the piece was, check out the small snippet here:

Chair of Concentration: Chen Zhen

This exhibit stood out to me because it was made of pieces of furniture that are very familiar in my own life and culture - an antique wooden chair that looks like something my great-grandparents would have owned in their time, and connected to it, a giant pair of ‘headphones’ made of chinese chamber pots.

Now, we all know that chamber pots are used to store human waste, so it was really funny to me that Chinese artist Chen Zhen used them as part of his artwork. Within the chamber pots are speakers that play an empty static noise. Someone sitting in that chair would be quite literally ‘listening to crap’. Maybe Chen Zhen should have put farting noises in those chamber pots instead?

All jokes aside, I think there’s definitely some kind of deeper, less crass interpretation behind this installation. My best guess is that it has something to do with how the act of taking a dump is detoxifying and symbolises the expulsion of bad energy and other unwanted negativity. Sitting in that chair and focusing on the steady static could probably do the same for us mentally, drowning out any negative thoughts and resetting our emotional state, almost like meditation. This artwork definitely lives up to its name, because speaking from personal experience, meditating and going number 2 both do require a large amount of concentration. Heh.

Arnold Schoenberg, op. 11 - II - Cute Kittens: Cory Arcangel

This piece was a welcome surprise for me, because I LOVE cats. Schoenberg’s original piece, though atonal, is known for favouring emotions and expression over structure and tone. Having adorable kittens play it note for note only elevates the experience. The fact that most of these kittens are just stepping, laying, and stumbling on random piano keys out of clumsiness just evokes an indescribable (like Schoenberg’s music, LOL) feeling of joy in me. Have you ever wondered why we want to squish things that are cute? Apparently it’s because our brain doesn’t know how to deal with overwhelmingly positive feelings. Maybe Schoenberg composed this piece because he saw a really cute kitten and didn’t know what to do with his emotions..? I guess we’ll never know!

The Sound of Non-Sounds: Christine Sun Kim

How does a deaf person experience sound? Well, deaf artist Christine Sun Kim can only guess.

In a world that privileges the auditory, Christine makes us re-examine what ‘sound’ actually means. Using only musical notation and dynamics like piano and forte in her work, she accomplishes the feat of distancing ‘sound’ from hearing, and making it something that can be seen and felt instead. 

Even as someone who is not deaf, I could totally relate to what she was trying to convey. As a nervous wreck myself, the last three lines in The Sound of Obsessing where she goes ham is just #relatable.

Interactive Activities: The Stage is Yours and Compose Your Own Graphic Score

Finally, the exhibition ended with some interactive activities for visitors.

In The Stage is Yours, visitors could play on a silent piano in the middle of the room. Everyone can have their Mozart moment, and the best thing is, only you can hear yourself (so no one will have to hear your terrible playing)!

There were also other interactive activities we could do, such as making music from household objects. 

Compose Your Own Graphic Score was pretty cool too. Visitors were allowed to write their own graphic notations and sheet music using different templates that had different shapes and symbols before adding them to the wall. I guess the idea was to show that music isn’t always just a 5-line stave read from left to right -- it can be so much more. 

Gin at work with her own musical score

All in all, Orchestral Manoeuvres was an iNteReStING (as TwoSetViolin would say) experience. If you want to give it a shot, the exhibition will be up until 2 January 2022, so there’s still plenty of time for you to experience music in a whole new light!

Orchestral Manoeuvres: See Sound. Feel Sound. Be Sound is open from now till 2 Jan 2022 at the ArtScience Museum, so do get your tickets and enjoy this immersive sound-art installation! 

Written by kimizomi, Yin and Gin
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