The Instrument of Troubled Dreams in Oude Kerk, Amsterdam

Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller.

 “I have never seen anything like that,” you could hear someone whisper when I was leaving the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam. “Seen” might be an unusual word when it comes to sound, but after having experienced Janet Cardiff and George Miller’s sound installation, it does seem appropriate. 

The artists had set up 28 speakers inside the sanctuary of the church, with a Mellotron surrounded by chairs in the middle. On rare precious moments, when the sun from the East shines through the stained glass church windows and each sun ray touches upon dust particles inside, the setting gains epic dimensions and time slows down.If you are lucky enough, and the timing is right, a person just sits down on the chair in front of the Mellotron, and the magic begins. Sound starts coming out of the speakers around you, and you are immersed into a beautiful river of sound flowing around you as if a tangible, physical entity. The Mellotron constructs the sound you hear — every key, 72 of them, is programmed to play what the artists described as either a sound effect, a vocal track or a musical fragment. The visitor sitting in front of the Mellotron is transformed into a composer, allowed to explore the possibilities the dramatic setting is offering.

Similarly to the previous visitor, you are allowed to explore the possibilities and play the Mellotron for an unlimited amount of time; for time is a different concept. Expecting a long impatient queue of people behind your back, you turn around only to see other visitors silently sitting in a state of reverie caused by the combination of sound coming from underneath your fingers, the speakers around you and the ephemeral sunlight seemingly responding to every key you press. 

After having played the Mellotron, you sit back on one of the chairs, observe and wonder. Some sounds you just heard have woken up a childhood memory, some took you away on a journey you had never made. That melancholic singer’s voice sparked an unusual,sublime emotion beyond ordinary existence. On the official website the installation is said to be a temporary soundtrack of the space, but it rather seems that in contrary, the temporary factor in the space is you. The omnipresent sound that fills the air around you is the very foundation of the church — the artist duo had successfully brought it to the surface, for everybody to see.

To see in our society means to understand. We are taught not to believe what we hear, so we ought to go and see The Instrument of Troubled Dreams for ourselves in Oude Kerk before 29 April 2019.

Eva Tisnikar    8th December 2018