Experiencing a Sounding Images composition interpreting Frank Auerbach’s Primrose Hill- Winter (1981-82).

The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham

Jen Ridding, 15.09.2017
Using a fine art collection to inspire music students
The Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham was established for the study and encouragement of art and music. Our building on the University of Birmingham campus houses both our fine art collection and a concert hall.

To explore these connections, we been working with Annie Mahtani, a lecturer in electroacoustic composition in the university’s music department since 2015, to deliver an undergraduate module for music students called Sounding Images.

Students are required to create an electroacoustic composition inspired by a work from the Barber’s collection. This year, the 10 participating students chose diverse works by artists including Joseph Wright of Derby, René Magritte and Frank Auerbach.  

Throughout the module they visit the galleries and spend time with their chosen work.  Seminars and workshops are delivered by academic staff and the Barber’s learning team, which encourage students to consider how they respond to visual works of art and guide them to critique and question the works, their responses and the context of gallery and museum display.  

Students keep a blog to record their learning journey.  

The aim of the project is to create a new interpretative experience for visitors. The students’ final compositions are available for gallery visitors to download, or they can pick up an MP3 when they arrive.  

By using headphones we ensure that the soundscapes do not affect visitors who are looking for a quieter experience in the galleries.   

Each student writes an interpretative statement about their composition, which is available on a gallery hand out and online.  

We launch the pieces at the annual Beast festival, ensuring the project gets high-profile and international exposure within the electroacoustic community.

The project is effective in bringing new audiences to the galleries. The response from visitors is always positive with feedback collected on written cards and Twitter.  

The soundscapes help to increase dwell time and encourage visitors to see our sometimes very familiar art works in a completely different way.  

So we encourage our visitors to turn up the volume, engage in a new way and hear our works as they’ve never heard them before.

Jen Ridding is the learning and engagement manager at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts

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