60 x 60 Athena Mix – Sounding Out the Harris Museum & Art Gallery

harris insideBy Patricia Walsh

The fabulous Victorian architecture of the Harris Museum & Art Gallery, Preston, played a welcoming host to the 60×60 Athena Mix 2012 on Friday 8th March, 2013. The Grade 1 listed building is an amazing space ordinarily and boasts the largest gallery space in Lancashire but when it was filled to the rafters with 60 sound-works by 60 women artists, composers and musicians recently, it became even more so. This whole day sound event not only participated in this year’s International Women’s Day celebrations at the Harris Museum but also continued the marking of the tenth year of Robert Voisey’s 60×60 Project.

Stephanie Fletcher and Stephen Walker at the Harris made sure that this UK debut event, co-ordinated by Patricia Walsh, was set in the best possible location, namely the second floor balcony. This meant that the naturally reverberant characteristics of the large imposing building were fully taken advantage of and the pieces sounded fantastic from anywhere within it.  Starting at 11am on the day, the Athena Mix 2012 was repeated on the hour, every hour, until the museum closed its doors at 5pm.  The fantastic Foucault pendulum that hangs from skylight to floor in the central foyer area kept, by default, faultless time to each of the 60 second tracks and succeeded in drawing the venue and event together perfectly.

The continuously playing works permeated and moved through the air of the interior spaces and caused a slightly bemused reaction amongst some of the museum’s regular visitors.  A few of these had happened upon the Athena Mix by chance and although they inadvertently witnessed a shattering of the usually unruffled ambience of the place they were genuinely open to the new experience.  Spectators who gathered on the first and second floor balconies could peer down the huge central atrium and watch people, who were either seated in the ground-floor café or walking on the different gallery levels, visibly responding to the resonance of a particularly sudden or disquieting piece of music, sound or verbal eruption.

At one stage, almost as though on cue, a swarm of school children briefly appeared on the first floor landing and proceeded to move around its circular form in linear fashion and, or so it seemed, in time to the current soundtrack. In their bright-red jumpers and with all hands smoothing along the cool stone surface of the balcony in unison, they created a gliding loop of vibrant colour which when viewed from above  gave the impression of a wonderfully choreographed routine from a Busby Berkeley musical.

With the powerful, elevated speakers that were set one in each corner of the second floor location a quality sound easily reached every available ear from first setting foot inside the building to just before leaving it. Some guests gravitated towards and hovered by one speaker or another, possibly in an attempt to connect more closely with the various sound textures or perhaps to metaphorically anchor themselves to a physical object, before moving on around the venue to listen further, en route to one of the many gallery exhibitions.

Listeners were treated to a wide range of styles and genres with this the second 60×60 Athena Mix  and while every piece was well received by the audience, who appreciated a diversity of work that left them feeling intrigued, challenged, surprised or inspired, some favourites did start to emerge, such as; the scene setting Tick Tock by Sarah Boothroyd, the unsettling Selectric by Emma O’Halloran, the otherworldly Blue by Madelyn Byrne, the vital Pulsing by Laurie Spiegel, the sci-fi drama of Robot Stomp by Bettie Ross, the quirky Too Much LDS by Tilted Eardrum, the rousing Before and After by Siobhan Burke, the expansive 80 x Infinity by Dixie Treichel, the haunting vocals of Saviour by Anita Andreis and the appealing toytown vibe of Cultune by Annette Kruisbrink – and the list goes on!

The intrinsically unexpected nature of Voisey’s 60×60 format is always absorbing and it was relished at this Athena Mix 2012 event by all those who dropped by, listened in and stayed awhile, whether by accident or design, throughout the day.

Patricia Walsh co-ordinated this 60×60 Athena Mix event. Thanks go to Lubaina Himid at the University of Central Lancashire, Stephanie Fletcher (Exhibitions Assistant) and Stephen Walker (Operations Manager) at the Harris Museum & Art Gallery, Sabrina Pena Young, audio co-ordinator of the Athena Mix (2012)