A Beat for the Feet

A floor of sound at the Haus der Musi

Entering the Haus der Musik, I am still unsure what exactly to expect. Vienna’s only interactive sound museum on Seilerstätte in the city’s first district is no ordinary museum. How could it be; sound is dynamic and very hard to see. Today is the presentation of a Klangteppich, or Sound Carpet, designed by one of Austria’s most renowned contemporary artists, Hermann Nitsch.

Nitsch is an interesting character, best known for his inclination to replace the paint on his canvases with animal blood, although he is equally well known as a composer, film director, author, and multimedia performer. With less blood.

The press conference will be late as Nitsch is stuck in traffic and thus running a little behind. So, coffee is served, and there is time to explore. Around the space, white, wrought iron garden tables are framed by perfectly trimmed plants, set out in groups under the towering glass atrium that shelters the courtyard-turned-entrance hall of the museum. Everything is far more modern than expected.  The walls and floors are covered in warm creams and grays, lots of glass and steel, plasma TVs and soft reggae music echoing off the walls.

The last drop of espresso drained from the cup, the subtle commotion suggests the artist has arrived. Nitsch is as short as he is wide, bald-headed and long-bearded, trudging in through the side entrance. Everyone flocks around him, eager to shake his hand and be acknowledged, while Nitsch mumbles his hellos.

After brief introductions, the group begins moving up towards the third floor, towards the 700 square meter exhibition space that has so recently received the work we have come to admire. This level of Haus der Musik is dedicated to the great masters of Viennese musical history such as Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Strauss and Mahler, in the form of a multimedia exhibit featuring films, listening samples, strange objects and scores, with dimmed lighting and low, dark ceilings.

And indeed, the Nitsch Sound Carpet complements everything beautifully: red and blue curling designs in the main rooms, black and white in the connecting tunnels between the exhibition spaces.

“The design represents sub-terrestrial paths, winding and intertwining like music,” Nitsch says from under his beard, his arms crossed behind his back. “Music and blood are related in the sense, that music influences our pulse and blood circulation. Music is all around us; it permeates us from left and right, from the top and bottom – through the feet, and even through the carpet.”

Winding through the maze of rooms, the floor demands attention, the details and implications of the designs reaching up from beneath. To one side, men in suits are discussing the fine quality of the carpet in hushed tones, complimenting its effect next to the Biedermeier wallpapers in the low glow of reflected light. Nitsch leads the way, arms crossed behind his back, slowly striding from room to room in silence. At the exit, there is a chance for a last look before taking the long glass elevator back into the lobby.

There is a pause; it seems everyone is eager to soak up just a few last words from the artist, a desire he chooses not to fulfill. He does, however, shake a few hands amid scattered goodbyes. The touch of his rough palm and the intensity of his piercing gaze mark a moment that, even more than the sound carpet, will be the memory many will retain.

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