By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
“We decided early on that we didn’t want to use any real animals,” says Drew Daniel, lead laptopist. “We wanted to synthesize it as much as possible. So, for example, I made the sea-lion cries by taking a rubber superball and dragging it across a wooden table and then pitching it way down. And I have this neighbor down the street who does a really funny noise with his tongue, and I got him to imitate a porcupine.” While the rapid-fire cut-and-paste approach might suggest superficiality, the group succeed in conjuring a startling variety of cinematic emotional extremes — from ominous Shining-like drones (mountain goat) to giddy Looney Tunes banjo breakdowns (collared peccary) in just under seven minutes, with a sublime pastoral 90 seconds devoted to the plains bison at the far end.
Most of the works succeed in distinctly cinematic terms: Nels Cline’s layered feedback and backward masking swell as your eyes pan along the spine of the Argentinosaurus; Stephen Hartke’s slippery, Harry Partch–like percussionisms seem to emanate from the glinting surfaces as you move through the Gems and Minerals gallery; and the Sun Ra Arkestra — in an untitled piece improvised in the middle of the night in the very Ancient Latin American hall it was recorded for — brings three millennia’s worth of pre-Columbian figurative sculpture to lurching, joyous life.
“Sonic Scenery” reminded me of how the Walkman changed my life. With the soundtrack under my control, I found my mind free to wander, and life was suddenly more interesting — like a movie. I found myself making creative decisions about what to focus my attention on, and when to shift it. I started experiencing funny or deep synchronicities between the music and my life/movie. I think it was a couple of years before I took them off.
To test something I learned in that time, I walked through the NHM’s second-floor galleries, listening to the “Sonic Scenery” soundtracks set to the incorrect displays. Cline’s piece meshed nicely with the mock rainforest. The Arkestra’s piece could have been written for the Ralph W. Schreiber Hall of Birds. And Nobody and the Mystic Chords of Memory’s immersive Blue Dissolve was probably more poignant while looking at the decrepit series of dioramas depicting the life cycle of the sea turtle — only the last diorama has a functioning light, revealing voracious seagulls picking off the newborns as they scramble for the sea.
At first I felt a little cheated by the interchangeability, but then I realized that I was deeply engaged, carefully examining visual details I may have missed, creatively searching out points of serendipitous coincidence, having fun and discovering new meanings in things I might have otherwise overlooked. What else could I — or a ?museum — want?
SONIC SCENERY | Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, 900 Exposition Blvd., Los Angeles | Through May 3