The spiral of a shell. A piece of coral. A bit of topography. Bold fields of red and green, somewhere between Rothko and a national flag. Maura Galante’s The Sound of Everything is an intriguing bit of collage and abstract art. But because it’s in that still-so-familiar 12-inch-square format, it’s suddenly also an advertisement, a messenger, with an intriguing thing to say for a piece of visual art: Listen.
For “Sound + Vision: A Visual Playlist” — an art exhibition and silent auction on the third floor of the Institute Library on Chapel Street — 67 area artists made what the exhibition calls “imaginary album covers,” that is, covers for albums by bands that don’t actually exist. The results of this intriguing concept revel in the power of album covers, not only as pieces of visual art in their own right, but as the first impressions music fans have of the music they’re about to listen to. Album covers make statements and create atmosphere. They set expectations. They are, in a sense, the first note of the music inside.
Some of the pieces invoke history and the ways that, in the music industry, controversy and commerce feed off each other. With its parental advisory sticker — the legacy of the Parents Music Resource Center — plastered to the outside of a black cover, David Borawski’s Truth Be Told reminds us how the album has been a battleground in the censorship wars, sometimes because of the image on the cover, sometimes because of the lyrics itself. Bands have claimed the all-black album cover as a bit of a statement, though quite possibly, most people first saw the all-black cover as part of a joke.
Michael Quirk’s The Doors Live in New Haven taps into the Elm City’s own history of controversy in music. In 1967, before a show at the New Haven Arena, Jim Morrison was reportedly making out with a fan in the shower of the dressing room when a couple police tried to intervene. Morrison told the cops to “eat it” and got Maced for it. He then recounted the entire incident in front of the audience and was arrested onstage.
The joke about the PMRC’s parental advisory stickers is that, if anything, they’ve tended to help album sales. How much would a recording of that Doors concert, ending in Morrison’s arrest, be worth now?
Some of the artists take the opportunity to dig deep into the aesthetic of a particular era. Colleen Reilly-Rees’s A L’Ombre de Nous almost perfectly captures the way certain albums from the late 1960s or early 1970s looked. You can almost hear the notes in the glow off those train tracks. (But do we all hear the same notes?)
Many of the pieces, to this reporter, are just flat-out evocative. They don’t suggest a specific genre so much as a mood, tantalizing and seemingly within reach, even though there are no records in the sleeves.
Whether the artists provide playlists to accompany their pieces or not, Lys Guillorn’s Shimmyland (dream pop? rockabilly?)...
Martha Willette Lewis’s Elaboratory: Allegorythmic (math rock? hip hop? EDM?)...
Jessica Smolinski’s Sea Bed (new wave? R&B? indie rock?)...
and Hilary Opperman’s Monarch Kingdom (folk? industrial?) all promise only that the music inside will be great, without giving any sense of what it will actually sound like.
Which is why, by its title alone, Rod Richardson’s All The Music You Will Never Hear: Keep Listening gets to the heart of why the entire exhibition is so affecting. As Richardson’s piece points out, the world is full of recorded music you will never get a chance to listen to. For all the albums you see and then pass up, there are dozens, maybe hundreds or even thousands, of records you will never even see or hear about, let alone get close enough to in order to hear the music. At this point in history, there aren’t enough hours in any one person’s life to hear all the music humanity has recorded. Which, for avid music fans, is an ultimate source of both profound sadness and great joy, because their next favorite record is always out there, waiting to be found.
“Sound + Vision: A Visual Playlist” runs at the Gallery at the Institute Library, 847 Chapel St., until Oct. 31. From 7 to 10 p.m. on Oct. 31, there will be a closing party with album sales, auction results, and a live broadcast on WPKN. Tickets can be purchased in advance here.