Walking through the center of the Milwaukee Art Museum’s main level galleries, visitors often become aware of something out of place: a single, monotone voice echoing faintly through the spacious galleries. Those curious enough to follow the noise to its source will stumble upon an unexpected scene. Just around the corner from the central staircase, a small cloth doll lies on the museum floor, a bright yellow folding chair leaning precariously against its head. Projected onto the doll’s blank head is the expressionless face of an adult man, speaking a series of short phrases slowly and deliberately.
Scratching, turntables, bass, melodies, rhythm. Not exactly vocabulary you’re used to hearing about in an art museum, is it?
In an experiment with H2O Milwaukee Music/the Peace Propaganda Project, an urban music education organization, we put teens, music educators, and video art all together in a gallery to see what would happen.
The mission: Create an original piece of music inspired by Jim Campbell’s Taxi Ride to Sarah’s Studio (2010).
First, we took 15 minutes to look closely at the piece, which is made up of many small LED lights programmed to blink at certain intervals, creating an unusual video installation (see video below). Teens immediately centered in on one of Campbell’s primary interests: visually representing peripheral vision. Then, with an array of equipment–turntables, laptops, keyboards, subwoofers, speakers–we set about creating a piece of music inspired by the look, mood, and rhythm of Campbell’s piece.