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Site-specific ultrasonic sound installation

Undertone is a sonic evocation of the painting The Concert, by Vermeer, which was stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990, as a part of the largest art heist in recent history.

The installation triggers the audience‘s memory and imagination of the painting through the use of sound: Fragments of a contemporary rehearsal of the piece „Ombre de mon amant“ by Michel Lambert appear from the empty frame that once held the painting, amplifying its absence. A voice is heard as part of the composition, reciting fragments of the Air de cour‘s lyrics, a musical style popular at house concerts during the Dutch Golden Age. Drawing on the intimate undertone of the scene depicted, this voice was recorded in the style of ASMR, a popular phenomena known to arouse the listener’s feelings through the experience of sound.

An ultrasonic sound beam carrying the composition was bounced off glass installed inside the frame. The reflection of the beam was audible when standing in front of the frame, where the visitor had an impression of a cloud of sound forming around the missing painting.

The recording of the music and sound fragments was done in collaboration with the renowned „Four Nations Ensemble“ (New York / Montreal). Undertone was part of the exhibition "Listen Hear: The Art of Sound" at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 2017.

The Four Nations Ensemble: Pascale Beaudin (Voice / Soprano), Andrew Appel (Harpsichord), Daniel Swenberg (Lute)
Recording technician: Brian C. Peters


Selected Reactions:

„Back in the Gardner, perhaps the most striking installation takes place in the room where burglars notorious stole a Vermeer and several other great works several decades ago. Where the Vermeer once appeared, an empty frame now stands, with ultrasound speakers above bouncing sound off the mirror-like glass inside the Vermeer’s frame. (...) The stolen Vermeer was called “The Concert” and the sound you hear as you perhaps contemplate your own reflection in the empty frame, is that of musicians discussing and rehearsing a piece of early French music that might have been performed in Vermeer’s work. (...).“
The Huffington Post, March 2017

„Then, on a recent visit to the museum, I stood in front of the empty frame in the Dutch Room where the Vermeer once was, and the quiet strains of a lute wafted around me. Then singing, conversation, a harpsichord. The image of “The Concert” welled up in my imagination — the young woman at the keyboard, the lute resting on a table — and its absence pierced me afresh. (...) The sound is Moritz Fehr’s “Undertone,” fragmented and stitched-together recordings of a contemporary rehearsal of a 17th-century song, “Shadow of My Lover,” a tune the group in Vermeer’s painting might have been playing. It’s one of the gems of “Listen Hear: The Art of Sound,” the ambitious new contemporary show at the Gardner.“
The Boston Globe, March 2017

„As alfred schutz noted, music is a meaningful context in which we can share time with those absent, making michel lambert a quasi-consociate during the performance of his setting of “ombre de mon amant,” then what does a recording of lambert’s “ombre” coming from the empty frame of vermeer’s “the concert” do? might it provoke some pleasures of the absent painting through association? fehr’s piece is thus a provocation for those who visit the gallery to think about art beyond the simple iconism of real ist art (“this is a picture of a concert”) or even the position of vermeer within art history or the art market (“most valuable piece of art ever stolen”). it calls us to think about art in a kind of sentimental circulation.“
Review by D.J. Hatfield, April 2017

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