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What does this painting sound like?

August 2, 2009 |  1:00 pm

Cathedral Jackson Pollock's "Cathedral" (1947), shown left, is a riot of yellows, greens, blacks and whites executed in the painter's trademark drip style.

But what does it sound like?

It's a speculative, maybe even silly question. But the Dallas Museum of Art and students at the University of Texas at Dallas have embarked on a project to answer it as best they can.

Their efforts -- lead by Frank DuFour, who teaches a sound design class at UTD -- have resulted in a series of digital soundscapes to accompany specific works in the museum's collection.

Visitors can listen to the soundtracks using their iPhones or other hand-held Internet devices. (The museum has about 20 iPhones available to check out.) Each musical clip lasts anywhere from 40 seconds to more than a minute.

Seven works are featured in the project: Pollock's "Cathedral"; Frederic Edwin Church's painting "The Icebergs" (1861); a Roman mosaic titled "Orpheus Taming Wild Animals"; an ancient statue of the Mexican rain god Tlaloc; an Indonesian "protective" sculpture; a Japanese sculpture from the 16th or 17th century titled "Emma-O"; and a pair of Tiffany Windows.

The museum is rolling out the project as part of a larger effort called "Bonus Features" to help visitors engage with art via hand-held technology, including short videos that feature curators and other added information.

So what do the soundscapes sound like? For Pollock's "Cathedral," one student mixed jazz and electronic music (a solo trumpet figures prominently) with the sound of dripping paint. 

For "The Icebergs," the museum features two soundscapes: a musical track with strings and a solo piano (think Brian Eno meets Ryuichi Sakamoto), and an abstract track that evokes the sounds of the ocean and a creaking wooden vessel.

The museum says that it hopes to apply the same technology to two upcoming exhibitions -- one dealing with Impressionism and French photography, and another with coastlines and other bodies of water.

You can listen to the soundtracks for "Cathedral" and "The Icebergs" here.

-- David Ng

Photo: Jackson Pollock's "Cathedral" (1947). Credit: Dallas Museum of Art