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Soundscapes at the National Gallery

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Whilst hopping between meetings in London yesterday, our head of Creative, Jo Reid, took the opportunity to visit the new Soundscapes exhibition at the National Gallery. As champions of using sound to immerse users in our audio trail apps that we call AppTrails, we were intrigued to see what the Soundscapes exhibition had to say. Read on below for Jo’s review of the experience…


I had the pleasure of visiting the new Soundscapes exhibition at the National Gallery yesterday. It was great to be able to experience six different forms of soundscape in an immersive gallery setting. As much of our AppTrail work is about augmenting soundscapes over the built and outdoor environment, it was a great opportunity to hear interpretations for a controlled and artificial space.

Before you go through to the main exhibition you are encouraged to watch a film about the artists interpretation. I must confess that if I had not watched the film I am not sure that I would have worked out some of the subtlety of their pieces. Whilst not all of the musicality in the soundscapes appealed to me, the relationship of the aural stimulation to the visual paintings was inspiring and in each case it did make me look deeper and pay more attention to details.

I am a big fan of Janet Cardiff’s work and I enjoyed the playfulness and physicality of her re-creation of Messina’s Saint Jerome in his Study. But it might also be because of my personal experience of having worked on ‘Last Will & Testament’ back in 2008. In that installation a full size replica of Catena’s painting of Saint Jerome in his Study was created which participants had to complete by moving objects from one room into another.  I like the sense of you get, akin to falling down a rabbit hole, when you can move into a physical set and with Cardiff’s piece the soundscape heightens that wonderment.

The other more physically responsive piece, Ultramine by Jamie xx, was also intriguing. Whilst I wasn’t convinced that the musical score was actually diffusing as I walked because the visual effect from the painting is so powerful it helped to enforce the idea and it felt clever.

I would happily have spent a lot longer in the exhibition if I hadn’t been trying to fit it in between work meetings and the only quibblet was a slight bleed of sounds from next door when you are in Yared’s “Les Grand Baigneueses”, but I expect they may sort that out before the exhibition ends in September.

To find out more about the Soundscapes exhibition, visit the National Gallery website.
To find out more about AppTrails, please visit our services page.