By: Kontney Communications
Alberta’s Banff Centre produced an exhibition by artist Andrea Büttner, Piano Destructions, which was shown at the Centre’s Walter Phillips Gallery from April 16 to July 26, 2014. This was a significant show, two years in the making, and uniquely celebrates the piano’s place in art and art history. Truly a multimedia exhibition, the realization of Piano Destructions required nine grand pianos, five large video screens, and a matching set of nine
Curator Jesse McKee worked for nearly two years to organize all the needed elements. Andrea Büttner’s vision reacts to the Fluxus movement, which used the destruction of pianos as a commentary on the art establishment. In contrast, this exhibition began with a concert involving a choir of nine grand pianos playing romantic-era compositions by Chopin and Schumann, followed by a Monteverdi vocal choir piece that was transcribed for piano. Against this lush musical backdrop, historical footage of various piano destructions was projected on four large video screens in the 50×70-foot gallery space.
“The concert was a one-time event, staged on the exhibit’s opening night,” says McKee. “For the remaining three months of the exhibition, the pianos were replaced by the Genelec loudspeakers, mounted at ear height around the gallery. The idea was that attendees could experience the ambient audio environment of hearing the sound and force of nine pianos playing all at once, in chorus, but by standing near each speaker, they could also experience the tone and style of each individual pianist.”
To recreate the concert experience, curator McKee arranged to have the performance videotaped in advance, including an audio capture of each of the nine pianos. That footage was then edited into a single video, with the sound of each piano playing back through a corresponding speaker.
“The artist, Andrea Büttner, has used Genelec speakers for her other audio installations, and we also use them as studio monitors in the recording studio here at the Banff Centre,” notes McKee. “Unfortunately, the studios could not be without them for so long, so we had to look elsewhere.”
Theresa Leonard, Director/Executive Producer, Audio Programs at The Banff Centre, suggested contacting Genelec’s Canadian distributor, SF Marketing (SFM) in Montreal. SFM’s technical crew recommended the Genelec 8020CPM as being ideal for the task at hand.
Renowned as a nearfield studio monitor, the 8020C boasts 59 Hz to 25 kHz response in a 2-way, biamplified design that matches a 4-inch woofer to a ¾-inch tweeter, and encompasses Genelec’s patented Directivity Control Waveguide (DCW) and Intelligent Signal Sensing (ISS) technologies. Obtaining high fidelity audio in a rugged, yet compact, all-aluminum Minimum Diffraction Enclosure (MDE™) weighing only 8.1 pounds made the 8020CPM a perfect choice. The Banff Centre mounted the speakers from the gallery ceiling on long aluminum poles, so that they hung near average ear height, creating an environment that invited the viewer to move around and experience the concert sound from multiple perspectives.
The exhibition ran on an hourly schedule, with 40 minutes of the 9-piano performance followed by the starkly contrasting historical footage of pianos being destroyed, shown on four large screens within the gallery space. Also on display were two large woodcut prints by Andrea Büttner. Titled Piano and Keyhole, these commissioned prints were created using deconstructed components of a discarded piano.
Jesse McKee reports that the exhibition was very successful, with the Genelec loudspeakers playing a key role recreating the complexity and fidelity of the rarely-seen piano chorus concert, yet allowing the gallery to do so in a controlled and reasonable fashion.
“We wanted to design the experience in a way that explored the concert from the perspective of each piano, yet respected the health and safety of our visitors,” says McKee. “We had beautiful, immersive sound that kept the focus on the art, not the hardware used in creating it. The Genelec speakers were a perfect fit in that role, and we thank SFM in Montreal for helping make that happen.”