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Oliver Beer: Vessel Orchestra

Oliver Beer: My name is Oliver Beer, and I'm an artist from England. This exhibition is called Vessel Orchestra. It's a selection of thirty-two pieces from The Met's collection, which I've organized not for their aesthetic and cultural quality, but for their acoustic quality.

Every empty space—whether it be a room or a vessel or a wine glass or a seashell—has got a note at which it resonates. And you can hear those notes just by listening.

I chose objects that sing only the notes that we recognize as harmony now. So that's the well-tempered scale, the black and white notes of the piano. I've put a microphone in every object in the installation, and attached that microphone to a mixer, which is attached to a keyboard. And when I press down a key, like the middle C, the microphone inside is activated. So you hear, in real time, the musicality of the object. The museum is like a vast, multi-chambered instrument just waiting to be played.

A two thousand year old cooking pot sitting alongside a Joan Miró vase or a Sottsass and singing as valid a harmony as them is what this installation is about. Every object brings with it its own history of survival. Those individual stories weave a kind of new narrative together, and quite an unlikely one. It's a kind of leveling of the aesthetic and cultural playing field.

So I've written a composition which runs on a loop in a kind of player-piano mode throughout the exhibition. And on Friday nights, musicians and composers will come and play in a live context. I really wanted the performances to be as diverse and interesting as the vessels themselves.

As I listened to more and more objects I started to hear that there were patterns. Some notes recurred more than others. You start to question, why does this note keep recurring across cultures and civilizations? When you start thinking about a collection musically, which has only ever been thought about visually, all these unexpected stories and questions start to arise.

© 2019 The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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