5hz & Euphonia: Exhibition review

‘5hz & Euphonia’ by artist Emma Smith at Home Mcr

It’s like entering a religious building, a church or temple of some sorts. On the approach you can hear this enticing, engaging music. It’s like a choir of angels singing beautifully in a dream. But not everyone enjoyed this new sound installation in HOME mcr’s main gallery. And I can kind of understand why.

Sound pieces are odd. There is no denying it, people just don’t get it. It’s not the same as a beautifully painted, landscape scene. You can’t talk about colours, brushstrokes, size etc. You can’t walk around it and examine it like a sculpture. You can’t look at anything! It’s not easy to understand if you aren’t into that type of thing. It’s just a bunch of sounds, music even. Is music the same as art? Fortunately for me, I am a fan of sound art and music – so I’m happy. But one woman at the exhibition, quite open with her views, simply said it was ‘utter nonsense’. She continued –

‘I’m not inspired I must say. This doesn’t excite me. It doesn’t grab my attention. It makes me want to leave.’

She also ended with a slit-throat action, and told the gallery attendant in a sarcastic comment ‘great exhibition.’ Wow. I mean, I’ve wrote the odd bad review but lord woman, that’s harsh!

I, on the other hand, thoroughly enjoyed the artwork. Although I did think the overall exhibition looked like a modern, Ikea room set. There were copper, naked lights, with comfy and economical furniture, bean bags and plants dotted around too. Saying that, the whole room was open and extremely inviting, and the music draws you in, it was enchanting.

The exhibition is split into two pieces, firstly ‘5hz’. This, I guess, I can summarise as the language itself. Emma Smith has researched and investigated in the use of this new language. It is a language of sounds that we use across all countries. Those little syllables that we say, that catch us sporadically mid-sentence. A little ‘ee’ and ‘aa’.

On my approach into the purpose built sound booth, I could hear voices talking. Is there someone in the booth already? Is this part of the work? I can’t quite hear what they are saying. I turn the corner into the opening, and see it is empty. I then realise the voices aren’t part of the work at all, it’s the gallery attendant having a chat. That’s confusing. As a sound installation you aren’t sure what sounds are what, what’s part if the exhibition and what isn’t. Remember that time someone left a skateboard in gallery and people thought it was part of the exhibition? I felt like that, totally done-over. Anyway. I headed into the think wooden hexagonal booth, where I found church-like benches, further creating that religious setting. I pick up one of the flyers, pop the headphones on and listen.

The flyer and the recording teaches you the new language, which sounds like an adult teaching a baby how to speak, it repeats sounds like ‘oo-oo’ and ‘ee-ee’. You are invited to repeat the sounds, which then builds up into almost singing them, which is highly encouraged. This then ties into ‘Euphonia’ quite nicely.

‘Euphonia’ is the music, singing part f the exhibition. I sit on one of the Ikea sofas – which was very comfy I may add. I close my eyes, and listen for a minute. The speakers are placed all around the room with reflective perspex bouncing the noise around the space. It was like having my own choir surrounding me, singing a magical, foreign language that I can kind of understand. I felt like Pocahontas, she closed her eyes, listened intently to John Smith, and then she understood the whole English language! I bloody love Disney!

I felt truly chilled sat there. There is loads of recent news coverage and drive for people to think about mental health. I felt like this exhibition, whilst sat on a soft sofa or squishy bean bag, is the perfect place to just relax and take a minute. At this point, I couldn’t help but get involved! I am one of those people who will just start singing randomly every now and then. I am like Phoebe from Friends, I’ll just make up a song when the mood takes me. Usually it is about how something doesn’t work or confuses me, or about how nice my food is, or how smelly my husband is. So looking around, checking no one is in ear-shot, I join in! ‘oooo, eee eee eee, aaa baaa baaa.’

I’ve toyed with the idea of inclusion snippets of sound from the exhibition into this article. But then that is giving away all of the works goodness. I feel like you have to be in the room, engulfed by the sound, to truly get the sense of the art. If you do still want to hear a clip, drop us a message and I will send it to you.

I felt the woman who hated the piece judged the exhibition too quickly. But then on the flip side I totally understand why sound pieces are hard to ‘get’. Art is subjective at the end of the day, and sound installations aren’t going to be for everybody. But I love the fact we have this here in Manchester, as many galleries wouldn’t give their whole main space to something as out-there as this is. Yet you have to dedicate the whole space, as this wouldn’t work in only part of a gallery. You need the open areas, the space to sit and chill and take it all in. If that woman had just sat and listened for a couple of minutes, she may have felt differently, who knows? I am not trying to force people to like art, I just want people that may think they don’t ‘get’ art to give it a chance. To not instantly think of something as too ‘arty’ or ‘weird’ to understand, and to just accept it for what it is. And then at the end of the day if you still don’t like it, fine! That art isn’t for you. But try another exhibition, another artist, another medium and you might like that.

I thoroughly enjoyed Emma Smith’s work. I love language, and music, and Ikea! So it’s a win win.

5hz & Euphonia‘ by artist Emma Smith is on at HOME mcr from 6th April – 19th May.

Head to our What’s On Calendar for more of this month’s exhibitions.

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