The highly accomplished, revolutionary Berlin-based artist Ari Benjamin Meyers breathes music to life through more mediums than just air in his “Kunsthalle for Music” at the Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara. At the opening reception of the exhibit on Saturday, Sept. 21, Meyers showcased his musical compositions through a group of talented young performers, melding vocals and instrumentals to engage his audience.
Members and non-members of the Museum alike traversed through the white-washed room with champagne in hand, pausing to reflect upon the various timeline events strung across the walls. The timeline extends from the far end of the room at the entrance of the museum to the opposite side, encircling the entire exhibit. Viewers find monumental pieces of modern music laced within the chain of history, including works by Philip Glass and other innovative composers, many of whom are lesser known to the general public.
The noted works represent the advancement of modern music, particularly in the use of the human body and natural methods of music-making. Appreciating the natural phenomenon of music aside from the interference of social constructs, the pieces are composed in a way that morphs the human experience into a spiritual and musical receptacle.
Meyers’ work does the same, exploring the realm of untainted music in its purest natural form. In the beginning of the performance, the musicians form a line in front of a large white screen, with a trail of text behind them reading: “Music is not necessarily what you think it is.” And in the case of Myers’ genius, it is not. A choral unison carries into the far corners of the room as the seven musicians repeat a simple phrase over and over again, singing “music is not.”
With the end of the unison chorale, the performers disentangle themselves from front stage and make their way to various posts around the room, where an instrument awaits on a podium or stand. In a smaller room tucked away in the back of the exhibit, a drumset rests. To the right, violin, clarinet, and piano. To the left, cello and saxophone. The music now becomes something else entirely: random, disembodied cogs of melody.
The audience mills about the empty space in the room to collect a full sense of the abstract music. At first, it is alarming, but upon further listening, becomes curious. The musicians begin to move to the center of the room, their melodies becoming more familiar, repeating and trading off themes and connecting them as an ensemble, rather than separate entities. A full piece of music constructs as the musicians form a circle, playing directly to one another, encapsulating the beauty of communal creation. One by one, they leave the group, rest their instrument back on its individual stand, and sit cross-legged on the ground while the melody is carried by one less instrument with each passing minute.
The exhibition remains open through Nov. 3. The Museum of Contemporary Art will host many events throughout the coming months in addition to open museum hours, including “Contemporary Art Unlocked” and “Third Thursday Studio.”