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Six artists confronted with and in the Chopin Museum: Konrad Smoleński, Leszek Knaflewski, Daniel Koniusz, Piotr Łakomy, Łukasz Jastrubczak, Wojciech Bąkowski. Each brings an intervention to the exhibition space or its margins. The intervention might represent a critique or audition of the acoustic conditions of public and private spaces, of the acoustic identity of the Chopin Museum’s architecture in relation to (neo)modernism, of the relationship between sound and corporeality [Character]. An acknowledgement of the need for sound to be organic, in light of efforts to render it sterile; a reflection on authenticity [Aura]. A testing of the boundaries and limitations of the biographical museum, a cross-examination of aural-marginalism versus visual-centrism, of listening rituals and identity. Of the effects of disturbing, marginalising, knocking off balance [Museum]. All of this in relation to that Chopin who is now, today. Inside us.

Content curator: Maciej Janicki
Artistic curators: Leszek Knaflewski, Daniel Koniusz


1. Character

Sound intervention as a critique of the aural conditions of modern public space.  From 1830-1840, Chopin was witness to the first transformation of Paris into a modern, 19th century metropolis.  Urban planning teaches rationality.  In Paris, Chopin looks for acoustically tolerable surroundings.  He wants neither girls nor smiths as his neighbours.  In the summer, he escapes to Nohant where the sound of the piano blends with the wind in the trees and the birdsong.  There, he creates his most exquisite works.

Living in an environment polluted visually, many of us are unaware of what a deafening aural chaos we endure.  Being used to a “lo-fi soundscape” (Murray Schafer), we have learned to eliminate, or at least to disregard, the oppression of noise (though we are constantly confronted with “furniture music” (Satie) in the form of muzak).

We adapt our way of listening from continuity to fragmentarisation. We allow overstimulation.

We can close our eyes, but it’s hard to close our ears.  We don’t notice how quickly our behavior changes under the influence of sound, how much we permit, how little we control.


Audio intervention as consideration of the role of sound in private spaces.  Chopin performs reluctantly as a virtuoso in the enlarged concert halls of the early 19th century, before crowds of people from various social classes.  He prefers a salon with a close group of people gathered round the piano.  Many listeners experience vibrations with their whole body (and ears).  Not only are they one-to-one with Chopin, but they resonate with the sound.  The delicacy of the Pleyel piano makes Chopin’s playing possible – the role of his rich spectrum of sound and marvelous sonorous effects, as described by listeners of the time, is not merely supplementary, but essential.  At the Pleyel, an acoustic whole with the composer is formed, and touch is often of key significance in the process of composing.

The spaces in which Chopin plays are resonators.  Sculpted by sound, sculpting sound.  In 1842, we read of his playing:  “On the day when a microscope for the ear is invented, Chopin will be deified” (W.H. [H. Blaze de Bury], Revue des Deux Mondes, 1.04.1842).

At the beginning of the second half of the 20th century, Marshall McLuhan coins the phrase “auditory tangibility”.


Audio intervention as a critique of impersonal architecture.  (Neo)modernist architecture is a hegemony of rationally legible, sterile spaces in which fringes or blind alleys are ruled out and every imperfection replaced with the illusion of effective planning serving to increase production.  Architecture becomes a residential machine, and a working machine which disciplines even hearing, thereby neutralizing it.  Many spaces have or will never attain personality, meaning an expressive identity (or any identity whatsoever).

The Ostrogski Castle is a space which consists of a number of elements (the two upper levels of the castle, the barrel-vaulted ground floor, the brick interior beneath the terrace, and the spaces on the lowest level).  Its main space houses the permanent exhibition, and next to this are marginal ‘non-spaces’ which can confuse visitors a bit (several of them are blind alleys).

On the one hand, we submit to those spaces and take advantage of their character – not only their sculptural properties (how sound is formed by the arrangement of walls, ceilings and floors and their potential for defining sound), but also their soundscape profile.  And the sensations formed (added) by the sounds of the exhibition.  On the other hand, we oppose them.  This does not mean simply dislocating or transferring the aural environments in order to create a surrealistic feeling of foreignness, but filling the spaces with vibrating sound, paying attention to their limits, and seeking identity.


II. Aura

Audio intervention as an outline of synthetic perfection.  A return to analogue technologies such as vinyl records or magnetic tape reflects the desire for non-synthetic tangibility, sensuality.  The need for intimate communion with sound, which you can touch (sight cannot touch), for directness (sight always intermediates).  The need to be in a space which is not perfect, and which approaches the organic for being imperfect.  Which is an uncomfortable disruption.  Disorder.

In Chopin’s time, his playing was sometimes perceived as a tool for escaping from reality.


Audio intervention as a critique of mechanization and the consequent digitalization/sterilization of sound.  The recordings played back in the Chopin Museum exhibition spaces are made in a sterile studio using perfect (and perfecting) recording equipment, yet are a record of performances on an imperfect period instrument (at least when compared with the technologies used in manufacturing pianos today).  Those recordings constitute a separate sound world having their own autonomy and criteria.


Audio intervention as a reflection on authenticity.

Sound/sounding object which emits an aura.


III. Museums

Audio intervention as a critique of museums (and biographical museums).  At least in part, sound acts against the fetishisation of things/works of art.  By eliminating the dominance of vision and putting the accent on hearing, which is more difficult to discipline rationally.  Demonstration of the powerlessness/limits of representation by visual means, which usually leave the viewer in isolation.  Hearing the unbridled/Dionysian potential of listening in a community.

Art museums did not initially concern themselves with their own quiet (earlier, they began considering their increasing silence).  Somewhat later, the problem emerged of a surplus of sound in white cubes.  In a biographical museum, either we walk in silence among the lifeless artifacts imprisoned in the display cases (contemplatively distanced) or we enter places overloaded with stimuli (the rhetoric of being where the action is).  It is easier to control audio information, more difficult to subjugate how sound reverberates in space.

We listen to music in spaces which are (acoustically) separated from reality, acting in accordance with concert hall ritual.  Today, in contemplating a picture or installation in a white cube, we are aware of a break in the arts of the so-called visual problem of modernism through participation, process, etc.  In music, despite the efforts of Cage and Fluxus, awareness of critiques of the modernist model of a work is not widespread.  And so, on the one hand, the tendency towards treating musical works in museums in a sterile, contemplative way, and on the other hand, the stimuli of modern urban reality where the dampening of sensitivity evokes a need for ever more and ever stronger stimuli. 

How we perceive audio intervention in a biographical museum differs from its contextualization in an art gallery.


Audio intervention as an intrusion/critique of biographical museum narrative.  Weirdness (a breach) opposed to the certainty of narration.  Anomaly (a spur) opposed to the rhetoric of a coherent vision.


Audio intervention as falling away from empathy.  Being used to reinforcing sensations provokes ever-frequent audio and visual “improvements”.  The more effective the sound/image, the further removed from reality.  The more effective (and affective) the fictionalization/aesthetisation, the more “authentic” the experience.  The hegemony of immersion.

Passivity in accepting information.  Museums are increasingly becoming not just amusement parks, but places subjected to the hegemony of “experiencing” and “experiences”.  Few museums are discreet, affording visitors the freedom to decide not only on the route they will take but on how they will interpret or react to what they encounter.


Audio intervention as providing visitors with tools for deconstructing their own identity.  Not only intellectual, but physical.  A test of our condition.


Audio intervention as a provocation of habits.  The habit of looking at a static moment taken out of the narration changed into listening to an artifact/narration (event).  A museum object is usually an immovable concentrator of sight, while sound is generally perceived as background.  By concentrating on listening to an intangible narration (altering the hierarchy of the senses), the visitor begins to perceive other phenomena in a distorted way (altering the scheme of perception).  Sound as an object, and sound as music/a means of communicating a subject.

Exercising new rituals.


Audio intervention as a shifting (of the meaning) of frameworks.  Adding glosses in the margins not only draws attention to the commentary but ensures that, in returning, the main text sounds different (or we stubbornly keep one eye on the commentary).  Audio intervention as a violation (of the status) of an artifact.  Adding glosses in the margins, the museum object becomes uprooted.  It is not to be accepted under a different light, so a different light confers or removes meaning.

The sound employed in exhibitions (the sound exhibited) sets the aesthetic framework/imposes conventions (situations) which are the point of departure for audio interventions.  It doesn’t contradict custom, doesn’t break boundaries, but tries to push them back, particularly in the case of visitors who have little aesthetic experience which would allow them to move freely within the conventions/cultural code of so-called serious music.  They have no specific expectations, but they have preconceptions (with regard to the conventions of museums as institutions, and musical conventions).

Selection of the means/strategy for listening and the convention of how to behave in (relation to) a given situation.  Social conditioning of listening.  Sound is not only a distinction/sign of belonging to society.  It is also the mass consumption of sound.


Audio intervention as a test of curatorial fields.  First there is the artist, then the art/inviting curator, then their curator (the state cultural institution), which after al. is not solely and exclusively a representative of that institution.

[Maciej Janicki]