Romantic Sounds is an experiment in ways of engaging online publics, both immediately with the virtual exhibition of RÊVE (Romantic Europe: The Virtual Exhibition), and, in the longer term, with the collections of the museums gathered together within the AHRC-funded DREAMing Romantic Europe network. It was inspired by the sense under the lockdown of 2020 that Romantic object and place were revealing themselves to be as much virtual as material. Perhaps the affect that the material heritage of Romanticism still exerts could be voiced in that most Romantically virtual of the arts, music. So DREAM, with additional funding from The Open University, commissioned 7 early-career composers and 14 early-career performers to conceive and put together this suite under the challenging conditions of COVID-19 restrictions. Each composer was given free rein to explore the exhibition, shortlisting a couple of exhibits to work with; from that list 9 exhibits were selected to showcase a range of materialities. Like RÊVE itself, therefore, this suite is in conception an experimental conversation between individually-authored components, and until it was put together in its entirety it was not clear what each piece might have to say to the others, how they might end up answering and provoking each other, or what they might say collectively about how the Romantic still resonates within the present. Each piece is a miniature — anything between one and half minutes and four minutes long – accompanied by the relevant images from RÊVE, along with a few notes by the composers reflecting on their creative choices. The suite as a whole runs for just under 30 minutes.
Embark on an acoustic adventure through the collection of Romantic dreams and fantasies held in RÊVE, transfiguring disparate Romantic materialities – paintings, a watch, an engraving, a tourist attraction, a tie-pin, a stethoscope, a guidebook, a few names in a book – into sound. You find yourselves first in a pastoral landscape crowned by a ruined castle where time seems to have stopped. Then you enter a soundscape that recreates the regular, rational tick of the Enlightenment in the shape of Cowper’s pocket-watch only for its beat to stutter, race, and break. Watch as a cloud-wisp drifts, mutates and then gathers threatening power; listen to the half-choked pantings of Vesuvius; be mesmerised by the flickering light that unsteadies the engraved geometry of Fingal’s Cave; be ravished as a diamond-studded lyre draws breath and spins singing phrases from the air; catch through the newly-invented stethoscope the optimistic sound of the future; and climb England’s highest mountain with Dorothy Wordsworth into visionary stillness. Finish, as is appropriate to the season, with the crackle and wit of a Christmas cracker.
Listen to the suite and explore the exhibits here.