July 14th, 2006



Yesterday I went to Pariser Platz to see two parts of the Sonambiente exhibition.

What a terrific show! On the train up there I asked myself why all exhibitions aren't internet-only. Why waste 40 minutes on the subway, going to something that's essentially just interactive multimedia? My question was answered as soon as I walked into the Polish Cultural Centre, the first venue I reached. This tawdry, almost derelict 1960s building on Unten den Linden reeks, glamourously, of Cold War spy thrillers. It's tremendously exciting to move from room to room, encountering the sound installations. In one, the windows have been rigged to pulleys that open and close, turning the sound of traffic into a symphony. In another, you can listen to the sound of the Earth itself by tuning a satellite dish. Next you enter a huge room with an installation -- one of my favourites of the whole show -- by Australian Berliner Joanna Dudley featuring dozens of record players playing soothing ringing tones. Occasionally a ballad, Tom's Song, breaks out. Then -- in a room full of suitably decrepit chairs -- there's a film in which elderly Polish Jews in a hospital in Tel Aviv try to remember the Polish national anthem.

The Akademie der Kunst, across the road, couldn't be more different. It's an impressively glassy, modern space. Here I really loved Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller's Opera for a Small Room, a characterless opera consisting, again, of turntables in a fusty-smelling room (another reason to take the train trip -- the internet doesn't yet convey smells), with changing lights and three levels of sound:

1. A series of turntables playing creepy opera records.
2. A series of loudhailers reciting hypnotic, disenchanted sentences and narratives.
3. A series of speakers mounted around the edges of the room playing lush orchestrations, train crossing noises, etc.

The robotic opera apparently concerns a British Columbia man called Royal Dennehy, an opera buff and misanthrope. It climaxes with what sounds very like a parody of a Nick Cave murder ballad, gorgeously orchestrated and "sung" by invisible robots through bullhorns. A tour de force!

Here, just to prove the internet isn't entirely without tactile capability, is a walkthrough of the Joanna Dudley installation:

Joanna Dudley walkthrough video