This post was written by Michael Stewart

Interactive Art: An Interview with the Creators of The Tangible Orchestra

One of the most damning descriptions of the gallery as an exhibition space for art was provided by Damien Hirst who declared that “museums are for dead artists”. At a stroke, Hirst relegated our existing galleries to the status of functional space on a par with a warehouse and designated them as unfit for purpose for our living artists. I suspect that Hirst was also alluding to the nature of the space itself; often sterile, soulless and deadly quiet inviting the “awkward reverence” that Philip Larkin used to describe his trepidation when visiting a church. And this is apt.

For many, the gallery visit is similar to a religious experience; you’re expected to be overawed, to pay homage, to be subservient in the presence of such majesty. Until recently the museum, the gallery and the collecting together of artefacts was an experiential one way street where the visitor had no input beyond providing their physical presence.

But contemporary opinion suggests that the opposite is true; that the spectator should benefit from participation, that the practitioner should enable the audience to engage with their work.

Since the 1990’s museums in particular have encouraged interaction. Gone are the white walls, glass cases and tantalising out of reach exhibits, corralled behind linked chains and velvet ropes. These have been replaced by interactive art installations that actively invite demonstrative appreciation.

Of course, conventional media such as painting, sculpture and certain forms within the plastic arts will by their very nature preclude them from inclusion in this new tactile world but the interactive art installation is achieving a prominence that projects a feeling of inclusiveness that breaks down the barriers between artist and viewer.

This is phenomenon is due to two main factors; the first being the desire of the gallery and museum directors to break down these traditional barriers and the second, the drive by artists and design practitioners to embrace the cultural revolution sparked by digital technologies.

The key word is, “participation” and this evokes a time when art, artists and artisans were viewed as being of the people rather than a race apart. The gallery became art’s version of the church, art appreciation a new religion and the artist was elevated to the status of deity; thus an artificial division was created.

But the evolution of the universally accessible, interactive art installation has restored the balance.

The Tangible Orchestra

Think about the final scenes from the movie blockbuster, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and you get some idea of the magnitude of this project. Few of us remain unimpressed when the alien craft appears to explode into a cacophony of sound and light in response to the assembled Earthlings attempts to communicate with it.

The Tangible Orchestra achieves a similar impact by combining electronic dance music, classical instruments, translucent columns and a large, three dimensional project space to create a unique auditory and visual experience. Each column is an independent, interactive cylinder into which has been placed a separate music track and a sensory system which reacts to the proximity of its “audience”. The cylinders are then placed throughout the project space.

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And this is the really interesting part… Essentially, this enables each member of the audience to become a musician and together they constitute a musical ensemble or orchestra. This is achieved because depending on the proximity of each participant to any particular cylinder and the number of participants involved, the range, contribution and volume of the music contained within each cylinder varies proportionately. Therefore, the experience is guaranteed to be different every time; orchestrated by the participants both individually and as part of an ensemble.

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As an example of interactive installation art, The Tangible Orchestra provides a perfect instance of how the balance of power between spectator and exhibitor has shifted dramatically. Here, the audience has moved from merely viewing or even participating in the process of exhibiting an art form to finally achieving a degree of control over the entire sensory experience.

You can share in the project by using this link: http://picaroon.eu/tangible_orchestra.html

We interviewed the couple behind this innovative project and gain a fascinating insight into their philosophy and process.

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