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Staging the Kinetic: How music automata sensitise audiences to sound art

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 December 2018

Linnea Semmerling
Affiliation:
Maastricht University, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Grote Gracht 90–92, 6211 SZ Maastricht, The Netherlands
Peter Peters
Affiliation:
Maastricht University, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Grote Gracht 90–92, 6211 SZ Maastricht, The Netherlands
Karin Bijsterveld
Affiliation:
Maastricht University, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Grote Gracht 90–92, 6211 SZ Maastricht, The Netherlands

Abstract

Western audiences have long been fascinated with music automata. Against this backdrop, it may not be surprising that art and music curators display historical examples of such mechanical instruments together with contemporary sounding art. Yet what exactly do these curators aim to accomplish when combining historical music automata with kinetic sound art? And do visitors understand the connections between the objects on display in the ways intended by the curators? To examine the curators’ ambitions, this article analyses three exhibitions: Für Augen und Ohren (West Berlin 1980), Ballet Mécanique (Maastricht 2002) and Art or Sound (Venice 2014). To unravel visitors’ responses, we focus on the Berlin exhibition, the best documented case. We argue that the curators staged the automated kinetic as a key historical link between mechanical musical instruments and contemporary sound art, and that they tried to tap into specific dimensions of public fascination with musical automata – the magical invisible, mechanical wonder and blurring of boundaries – to open their audiences’ senses to sound art. As we will show with the help of the notion of ‘listening habitus’, visitors’ responses indeed drew on these dimensions, but more often than not displayed a preference for the historical automata rather than contemporary kinetic art.

Type
Articles
Copyright
© Cambridge University Press 2018 

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