The Henry’s new exhibit, With Hidden Noise, “invites gallery and museum visitors to listen with ears they may not know they had.” Well, I definitely already had those ears; what was revelatory to me when I visited Saturday was not the music—seven rich-textured electroacoustic pieces, totaling about an hour and a quarter, playing on a loop—but the surroundings. Which couldn’t be more Spartan: a dimly lit room; four small speakers hung about seven feet off the floor in a surround-sound rectangle; about a dozen scattered IKEA-style chairs, plain gray cushions on blonde wood. I’d long assumed these kinds of soundscapes work much better—i.e., hold your attention and reveal their wonders—in the easy, airy openness of a gallery setting than in a concert hall. Now I’m not so sure. It struck me that the simple protocol of concert attendance—I paid my admission fee and I’m sticking around for two hours—helps you focus better than wander-in, wander-out browsing. What is a “concert,” most essentially? It’s a period committed to listening—a point seemingly lost on the Classical Music Is Dying™ brigade who won’t stop whining about what a horrible burden that is. But without the commitment, listening proves elusive. (I was glad later I’d taken notes, which remind me that Pauline Oliveros, whose recorded improvisation was one of the seven pieces, can conjure more sonic magic with an accordion than many composers could with a full orchestra and a roomful of synthesizers.) Maybe, after all, one can get more out of music putting one’s butt in a seat in Meany Hall at 8 p.m.
Henry Art Gallery, UW campus, 543-2280, henryart.org. $6–$10. 11 a.m.–4 p.m. Wed., Sat., Sun.; 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Thurs.–Fri. Ends Sept. 7.