Review: Euphonia: Emma Smith at Bluecoat

The Bluecoat, Euphonia: Emma Smith ®Rob Battersby

Euphonia: Emma Smith
at Bluecoat until 24th June 2018

Words, Joanie Magill

Standing at the threshold of the gallery space at Bluecoat before stepping into Emma Smith’s Euphonia installation, I was suddenly acutely aware of the difference between the sounds coming from the café area and those coming from the exhibition.

The café area could quite easily be an extension of the installation, because Emma Smith’s Euphonia is an exploration of the relationship between communication and music. The threshold of the gallery space has become a confluence of rhythm and harmony.

The premise of the exhibition is that everyone is a musician. When we talk we produce harmonies and rhythms and depending on the emotion behind them, they will produce different sounds.

The installation uses all of the gallery spaces as a series of spaces for experimentation and interaction.

In the first gallery, two computer terminals provide an invitation to complete a questionnaire where you reflect on how music makes you feel. It’s part of an experiment which continues the work undertaken by Smith and Professor Robin Dunbar during the research for Euphonia. You are asked to return to the gallery at the end of your visit to compare your results.

Having been a member of a choir for over three years, I am a true believer in the power of collective singing on wellbeing and the positive connections you make with the people with whom you sing. The difference between how you feel before you begin a session to how you feel at the end is noticeable. Completing the initial questionnaire, I was in no doubt that there would be a shift by the time I returned.

The main gallery houses Euphonia itself. Curved, tinted Perspex walls fill the space and allow you to weave your way from one end of the space to the other, absorbing sounds from the speakers as you approach them.

At one end of the space, is a microphone, suspended from the ceiling and half covered by a black soundproof shell which you can use to interact with the piece, adding your own voice and listening to the subtle changes of the score.

Smith worked with local choirs and collected the conversations of gallery visitors over the course of a year to create the score. When you visit an exhibition, what you take in through your eyes effects you on an intellectual and emotional level. What Euphonia offers, and what was powerful and immensely satisfying for me about this installation, is the experience of being able to hear and feel it. By spending time in the space, you become aware of the subtle shifts in how you feel.

Upstairs is a space to sit on one of the sofas, do nothing, chat or read the thoughtfully curated books on the shelf.

I visited the exhibition twice, on different days and at different times of the day. It was disappointingly empty both times. Although it is a rare treat to engage with a piece of art by yourself and really enjoy the space and the sounds it and you creates, it seems to defeat the purpose of an installation created to engage with the rhythms of sound created by collective sound making. Saying that, it has provided the perfect reason to return again and again to experience the piece in different ways.

Euphonia is the first sound art installation in Bluecoat in its 91 year history as an art centre. I hope this one is just the beginning.