… Where’s the sense in multisensory art?

Tate-SensoriumIt used to be known as ‘synaesthesia’; now ‘crossmodal perception’ is the scientific

term for the ability of one sense to stimulate another. Experiments by Oxford University psychologists and researchers in New York have found links between reactions to sound and smell

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in the part of the brain known as the ‘olfactory tubercle’. It may sound like a

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plug of mucus in a brass instrument, but apparently it’s highly sensitive. When one researcher banged his coffee mug down

painted Allegories of the Senses, viewers were supposed to use their imaginations – the sight of the poopy baby’s bottom in Jan Miense Molenaer’s The Sense

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of Smell was expected to do the business on its own. Now post-modern literalism expects more.
Yet which seems funkier, the rumpled sheets on Sickert’s iron bedsteads or the real ones on Tracey Emin’s My Bed, reduced by years of conservators’ condition reports
to a state of artificial deinsemination?

On the evidence of the Tate Sensorium, the senses of smell, taste and touch contribute little to visual enjoyment. Hearing is a different case, as we know /* xin-1 */ from film scores, which raised my hopes of the National

Gallery’s summer exhibition Soundscapes for which six composers, sound artists and google_ad_height = 90; recordists were commissioned to write

soundtracks to paintings of their choice. A problem with sound, of course, is that to appreciate it you have to keep quiet, which gallery visitors – unlike concert or film audiences – aren’t obliged to do. The calls of the raven, cuckoo and Lapplanders’ ‘yoik’ supplied by David Attenborough’s sound recordist Chris Watson as an undercurrent to Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s Lake Keitele would have been
wonderfully atmospheric if not regularly drowned in waves of chatter every time the gallery doors were opened.


all the soundtracks were as evocative as
as her google_ad_client = "ca-pub-3967079123942817"; 2010 Turner Prize entry and – apart from the knowing reference to Holbein’s broken lute string – had no connection with the picture. The other sound artists Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller chose a more appropriate accompaniment to


Antonella da Messina’s St Jerome in his Study in Guillaume Dufay’s early Renaissance composition Vergine
Bella, but then managed to completely upstage the painting by installing a large wooden model of src="//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/show_ads.js"> Jerome’s study in the centre of the room and relegating the original src="//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/show_ads.js"> to a corner.


Digital remix artist Jamie xx had a decent stab at replicating the pointillism of Theo van Rysselberghe’s Coastal Scene with pullulating electronic rhythms, and classical composer Nico Muhly’s theme for bells and viola da gamba was a harmless complement to
The Wilton Diptych, but the only unqualified success was Gabriel Yared’s score for Cézanne’s Les Grandes Baigneuse. Yared is google_ad_width = 970; a film composer who knows his stuff. His orchestration for soprano voice, clarinet and tinkling piano vividly /* 9-970x90 */ evoked the shifting light and leaves of a sylvan glade, while his repeating doo-whump google_ad_height = 90; figure in the cello supplied a thumping bass for the bottom-heavy bathers. The fact that the painting is the size of a wide-screen TV helped.

Soundscapes was an interesting experiment, but was it src="//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/show_ads.js"> successful in making people look at the paintings? Here’s a conversation The

Jackdaw’s sound recordist overheard in the ladies’ toilets.

Girl 1: “Did you go to the cinema?”

Girl 2: “What cinema?”

Girl 1: “The one google_ad_slot = "6023194682"; with the film

where all the artists talked about their


Girl 2: “Oh no! You mean I missed the main


Laura Gascoigne