- Listen to the story:
If you could hear a painting, what would it sound like? The Dallas Museum of Art and UT Dallas have created a new interactive program to answer that question. A sound design class at UT-Dallas has created a series of soundtracks to accompany specific works in the DMA collection.
The students’ interpretations are as diverse as the works in the museum.
One took a natural approach to a statue of a Mexican rain god. While another felt music captured a set of Tiffany Windows.
Nicole Stutzman from the museum coordinated the project with UTD.
STUTZMAN: “It’s something that I think the Dallas Museum of Art can offer that I’m not aware is being offered anywhere else at any other museum across the country.”
The series is part of a larger program to help museumgoers interact more deeply with the art. In addition to the sound files, visitors can find short videos with curators and other added information.
Consider the program the equivalent of DVD extras for the museum.
Visitors use iPhones and other Internet-enabled devices to access the bonus features. The museum has 20 or so iPhones available to check out.
The videos deliver what you might expect. But the soundscapes explore new territory.
Each clips lasts from 40 seconds to a little over a minute. Frank DuFour, who teaches the sound design class at UTD, says that time frame is comfortable for people to listen to and is ample time for his students to tell a story.
DUFOUR: “I want my students to give a shape to these 40 seconds. I want these soundscapes to have a beginning, a way to evolve to a climax and an ending.”
One of the works that excited his students is Frederic Edwin Church’s The Icebergs. In the painting (above), a sun-lit mass of ice rises out of the sea. At over 9 feet wide, it’s one of the museum’s most recognizable works. And it received a pair of very different interpretations – one ambient, one musical.
Stutzman says that each works in its own way.
STUTZMAN: “One I think is much more literal in terms of the kind of craggy sound of a boat. And the other just being this very calm, pensive … piece.”
The students generally gravitated to art that implies movement – “talkative paintings” as DuFour puts it. There are figures and objects in six of the seven works that received audio treatments.
The one abstract work is Jackson Pollock’s Cathedral. The piece (left) was created in Pollock’s signature way of dripping paint onto the canvas. The soundscape created for Cathedral features multiple layers that marry Pollock’s style with jazz.
DUFOUR: “One layer is the choice of the music reflects something historical. This is the type of music that Jackson Pollock used to listen to while painting. Then you have another layer which is literal. You have the sound of the dripping. And then you have a third level, which is a combination of these two sonic elements.”
At the most high-minded of levels, these soundscapes free viewers to form a deeper bond with the work.
DUFOUR: “It allows the viewer to feel free to interpret the painting themselves. Offering an interpretation shows that it’s possible for anyone else to interpret the painting.”
But if nothing else, they give visitors an excuse to pause.
To unclutter their minds.
And to really look at what they came to the museum to see.
STUZTMAN: “It does. It does sort of trick them into staying there a little bit longer and seeing what’s the next sound going to be and what am I connecting with visually with the work here in front of me when I hear that.”
Laptops and iPhones are the tools that make our lives more efficient. But they also tend to make us more hurried.
Here’s a chance to use those instruments of speed to actually slow down.
- Listen to the two treatments for The Icebergs:
- Listen to the soundscape for Cathedral.