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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 15, No. 7 April 2010

Good Vibrations: Sonic Bed lets visitors 'Feel the Music'

by Crystal Chan / April 1, 2010

Flash version here.

Kaffe Matthews has made a bed, and she wants everyone to lie in it. Her unique art installation Sonic Bed marries visual arts, music and technology and will be exhibited this April and May at OBORO. The award-winning piece was first shown in London in 2006 and features 12 specially designed king-sized beds stationed around the world, six of which have been completed thus far. In 2012, all the beds will give a synchronized global performance.

Installed within each bed is a 12-channel surround sound system. As someone lies, sits or otherwise interacts with the bed, vibrations from the musical frequencies travel up and down their body. “Each bed is an instrument,” explained Matthews. “Feeling [and not just listening to] music gives an utterly different experience of enjoying music than sitting in a concert hall or dancing in a club. We don’t just experience music through our ears. We only think we do.”

Sonic Bed is the inaugural creation of the Music for Bodies project started by Matthews. Music for Bodies researches the effect of different frequencies on the human body and maps the physical as well as auditory response to different musical score structures. Matthews has worked with biochemists and has just begun a new phase of research with Dublin scientists specializing in biorhythms. Since its inception, Music for Bodies has also enlisted the help of other musicians and artists as well as architects, psychologists, programmers and physicists. 

Lying at the heart of the project, however, is simply the universal goal of every musician: Matthews wants her music to engage a wide audience. Right before the project, she was performing all around the world. Yet she realized that most of the people who came to her concerts were musicians, in the music business, or already fervent devotees to contemporary music. Then she recalled a project in 1996, when she exhibited an armchair that had been retrofitted with speakers and then reupholstered. The piece was wildly successful. “It got invited to show at expositions all over Europe,” Matthews recalled. “And I realized that old women and kids would queue for hours to have a ride in this chair. And yet if you had actually played this music to them through speakers in a normal room, they would have said ‘oh go on love, give me a break, where’s the tune?’ But give it to them as a physical sensation through their bodies as an experience like that, and they would understand it!” Eager to make her music more accessible to a wider ranging audience, she applied for a grant to start the Music for Bodies project; the grant was approved with enthusiasm.

Matthews also pointed to her classical music training as inspiration. She played the violin from age six to 17, then again in her 20s. “A violin is just a small vibrating box, isn’t it?” she joked. “And that vibration is very much a part of my experience with music. When people often remark that my music is so physical I tell them it actually comes from my background as a violinist.”

» Sonic Bed_Québec (version 2) will be exhibited April 24 to May 29 as part of the Elektra Festival at OBORO (4001 Berri). Workshops will take place April 20, 21 and 22. Catch a concert with Kaffe Matthews, Magali Babin and Martin Tétreault April 23 at 7:30 p.m.

»Sonic Bed_Québec was originally commissioned in Quebec City by Recto-Verso for the Mois Multi festival in 2007 and played music by Matthews, which interweaves the sounds of the melting Saint-Lawrence River, and Inuit throat singing as well as pieces by Canadian composers Georges Azzaria, Magali Babin and John Oswald. The Montreal exhibit will play other new music as well.  www.musicforbodies.net


(c) La Scena Musicale