Staging the Kinetic: How music automata sensitise audiences to sound art

Linnea Semmerling*, Peter Peters, Karin Bijsterveld

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Web of Science)


Western audiences have long been fascinated with music automata. Against this backdrop, it may not be surprising that art and music curators display historical examples of such mechanical instruments together with contemporary sounding art. Yet what exactly do these curators aim to accomplish when combining historical music automata with kinetic sound art? And do visitors understand the connections between the objects on display in the ways intended by the curators? To examine the curators’ ambitions, this article analyses three exhibitions: Für Augen und Ohren (West Berlin 1980), Ballet Mécanique (Maastricht 2002) and Art or Sound (Venice 2014). To unravel
visitors’ responses, we focus on the Berlin exhibition, the best documented case. We argue that the curators staged the automated kinetic as a key historical link between mechanical musical instruments and contemporary sound art, and that they tried to tap into specific dimensions of public fascination with musical automata – the magical invisible, mechanical wonder and blurring of boundaries – to open their audiences’ senses to sound art. As we will show with the help of the notion of ‘listening habitus’, visitors’ responses indeed drew on these dimensions, but more often than not displayed a preference for the historical automata rather than contemporary kinetic art.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)235-245
Number of pages10
JournalOrganised Sound
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018



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