I’ve finally cracked my long standing inability to understand song lyrics – I’ve discovered most of them are nonsensical anyway! This revelation comes courtesy of the V&A’s exhibition on David Bowie currently showing at The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) in Federation Square, Melbourne.
From the early 1970s Bowie conceived of an idea of mixing random phrases together mostly taken from short news clips. He co-authored a smart piece of software known as ‘the Verbaliser’ which rearranges words to make this happen and create some of his lyrics. I think the technical term is ‘cut-ups’ and it’s a technique that went on to influence Kurt Cobain's songwriting. I guess we would call it a mash up these days, but one of the highlights of the exhibition for me was hearing Bowie talk about how he used words in this way.
Whilst this is not an exhibition I would have rushed to see based on its subject matter, I came away having thoroughly enjoyed it and seeing Bowie in a completely new light as an extraordinarily creative person. It’s slick and well presented, with a clever Sennheiser audio system (headphones are provided as part of the ticket price) that responds to where you are by playing songs and information relevant to what you are viewing. There’s a great review at dotsanddashes.co.uk. Sadly, I understand Sennheiser is not interested in replicating the system for other exhibitions.
This is all part of a big V&A push into Australia with no less than three of their exhibitions currently touring, David Bowie is…. at ACMI, Undressed at the Powerhouse, and soon the Queensland Museum and Bendigo Art Gallery and Inspiration by Design currently at the State Library of NSW and soon to be at the State Library of Victoria.
ACMI is a bit of a hidden performer in Australia's cultural sector. It's been around now for over ten years in its current location, though it actually dates back to 1946 as the Victoria State Film Institute. In 2013 it attracted over 1.15 million visitors. That's an impressive statistic, and based on the current offerings it deserves to do well, and can only play a bigger role.
This is going to be significantly helped by the recent appointment of Seb Chan to a newly created role of CXO - Chief Experience Officer - a position he takes up this month, returning from 4 years in New York at the Cooper Hewitt, where he was the Director of Digital & Emerging Media, and the lead player in the development of their new interactive pen (see my blog from June 2015 for more information). Listed in 2009 as amongst Australia’s 100 most influential people (see my blog from January 2009), Seb is not going to sit quietly in his new role. Watch the ACMI space!