The 4th episode of our MUSIC & SURVEILLANCE series is the first one to review an exhibition. Held at London’s Calvert 22 Gallery until 25 August 2013, ‘Sounding the Body Electric: Experiments in Art and Music in Eastern Europe 1957-1984‘ presents proposals at the crossroads of music and visual arts, covering the intellectual effervescence in Eastern European countries in the 1960s, and the more critical views emerging in the 1970s.
Works notably include ‘Just Transistor Radios’, by Polish artists Krzystof Wodiczko and Szábolcs Esztényi. The piece consists of people tuning and shaking transistors, evoking censorship practices through intentional radio jamming. It was originally performed in 1969, the same year when Wodiczko invented his ‘Personal instrument‘, a pioneering device for selective listening.
Russian conceptual artists Vitaly Komar and Alex Melamid are present with the installation ‘Music Writing: Passport’. The work recalls a performance from the mid-1970s, when Soviet authorities refused them permission to fly to the United States to attend the first international exhibition about them. To express their discontent, the duo developed a unique coding system with which it translated the visa restrictions printed within their passports into music, which was eventually played simultaneously in apartments of various countries by friends and followers.
Years later Komar and Melamid famously composed ‘The most wanted song’ and the ‘The most unwanted song‘ ever, combining musical elements determined on the basis of the scientifical analysis of knowledge on people’s musical preferences gathered through opinion polls. The songs, intended to constitute a critique of the American democratic process, can be heard here.
A double CD compilation with music from the exhibition, called ‘Sounding the Body Electric‘, has been published by Polish label Bôlt. More information and mp3 excerpts: here. For videos selected by The Wire magazine: here. Text by Gloria González Fuster