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Through The Ages Visually And Audibly
Much like many exhibitions in galleries the world over, this one was accompanied by an audio guide in the form of a portable player and headphones to help you understand what you are seeing as you walk through the exhibition. These audio guides often end up being very dry, formulaic and downright boring. In fact, they usually detract from the experience of the exhibition and leave you trying to align your audio with your visual senses somewhat unsuccessfully. Sennheiser has changed this experience once and for all with ‘David Bowie Is’.


We were all issued with a player on a lanyard and a pair of headphones upon entering the exhibit with the simplest of instructions; “Just turn the volume up or down, don’t worry about pressing play, it does it itself”. Well, that seemed pretty simple for those experiencing the exhibit. Behind the scenes, it was a logistical nightmare that was brought together seamlessly by Sennhesier’s wireless technology.


As you moved through the exhibition, the audio faded out of one track and into another depending on where you were standing. They linked the audio and visual experience perfectly and saw very few people removing their headphones to talk. Instead, the audience was fully involved in the exhibition. The system worked so flawlessly that a wall with five TV monitors, about two feet apart from each other playing video clips allowed you to walk along the wall and hear the songs change as you moved from one screen to the next. The transmission from the current screen kept playing if you moved slightly from one side to the other, but once you had clearly moved on to the next screen a few feet along, the audio changed with your movement. This meant that everyone could experience their own separate viewing of the exhibition at the same time, whilst standing in the same room.


The Suitcase
Not wanting to spoil the whole thing for you, I am not about to go into intimate details of the event or the exhibition as it is something that you all should experience for yourselves. It is definitely worth a weekend trip to Melbourne for interstate fans of David Bowie. Yes, the crystal ball riding crop from Labyrinth was in a display case for all to see, along with a range of costumes from film clips and tours over the years, dating back to Bowie’s earliest work.


This is an experience that comes around very rarely, being able to get a glimpse into the life of such a great artist, and the ability to see the development of ideas in behind the scene footage and writings. What really excited me was a piece of synthesizer history that was on display. There it was, in the final room of the exhibit in a glass display case for all to see, the much sought after EMS Synthi AKS, the suitcase synth that was responsible for some incredible sounds over the years, none more famous that the Dr. Who soundtrack.


Built into a suitcase design for portability, this was essentially a large modular synth with three oscillators and a peg-board grid used in place of a patch bay for routing the audio path. I have read about these synthesizers before, I have seen plenty of pictures of them, but I had never seen one up-close and I felt somewhat honoured to be in the presence of one in this great collection of David Bowie’s life. So, as this exhibition leads us to question who, or what, or when or where, David Bowie Is, I think I can walk away knowing that David Bowie Is an EMS Synthi AKS when it comes to personifying the man in a keyboard.


He is a vast array of sounds, thoughts, words, emotions and images and part of that experience can be found in the heart of one very special keyboard, and with the soul of one very special artist. David Bowie Is… that sound.


For more information on ‘David Bowie Is’, visit the ACMI website.