Synth musicians at play in the PMA!

Synth musicians at play in the PMA!

One of the things we love to see at the PMA is how art inspires art. In the last year, we've invited poets, memoirists, opera singers, cellists, and more to look at our collection and create new work inspired by what they see. This weekend, in partnership with the city-wide music festival Waking Windows Portland, we issued an open call for musicians to create synth and electronic compositions inspired by the art in our galleries.

Each of the 17 musicians who responded approached the challenge differently. Ron Harrity selected Winslow Homer's Taking an Observation, and biked out to Prouts Neck, where Homer lived and worked, to capture the sound of the wind and the waves.

By contrast, Lauren Tosswill drew inspiration from her subject’s creative process. She selected Jenny Holzer's Left Hand, in which Holzer reproduces on canvas the handprint of an Iraqi civilian who died at Abu Ghraib. Tosswill says, "I took image files of Holzer's piece and forced computer software to interpret the image data as sound. My composition is made entirely of raw image data converted into noise. My sound composition is an impression of Holzer's piece, derived directly from her work, in a similar way that Emad Kazem Taleb's left handprint, taken by the US military, is an impression derived directly from his body. The result in both cases is something inhuman, jarring, and cold."

One of the most unexpected choices to us was John Fireman’s selection of Mary Ann McLellan’s genealogy sampler, which recorded in embroidery the births and deaths of members of her family, accompanied by a short poem. John delved into the McLellans’ history, researching the entire family tree from Mary Ann’s parents to the present day. He created what he describes as “a chorus of synthetic voices speaking the names, subject to varying (and often very complex) processing. In keeping with the idea of a sampler demonstrating every stitch in an artist’s repertoire, the material is subject to a tailor-made algorithm constructed to mimic the kind of granular stitching variation you see in a textile sampler... Intentionally, I am creating many ‘generations’ of the same names through careful processing and re-processing, and the results are collaged into a soundscape/'blanket.'… The concept involves creating literal ‘generations’ of a specific name/sound.”

Visit the PMA between Thursday, September 28 and Thursday, October 5 to explore all 18 music tracks on our audioguide—just look out for the new yellow labels as you explore the galleries. And if you want to learn more about synth music, join us for the PMA Film A Life in Waves (pictured above), screening Friday, September 29 through Sunday, October 1, and a special “synth petting zoo” on Saturday, September 30, where you can meet some of the musicians and check out their gear.

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September 28, 2017
Associate Educator for Gallery Learning and Interpretive Media

Phillippa came to Maine from the other Portland, and has fallen in love with the creative community here. She’s worked in museum education and tech for eight years, and has an M.A. in Art History and Museum Studies from Tufts University. At the PMA, Phillippa collaborates with artists, experts, educators, and anyone who walks through the door to create gallery experiences, multimedia, and participatory projects including The Workshop.