Isabella Fabbri

University of Lisbon

Sounds at an Exhibition: Listening to Art

This study aims at investigating the phenomenon of live music being performed inside museums, thinking on the role that it could play in such spaces and in particular during the contemplation of a work of art. Its objective is understanding, specifically, how the action of a musician/composer can reshape the relation between visitors and artworks, the way of living the museum and visiting an art exhibition. How music and artwork influence each other interacting, how the perception of the visitor can change adding the presence of a musician and the dimension of sound, how the museum can be transformed during this action, how could we define this new space created between visitor-musician-artwork-museum? This research will dialogue in particular with the author’s artistic project “Sounds at an Exhibition”, an interactive and itinerant performance designed for museums, which encourages visitors to “listen to” the works of art. During the performance, a saxophone player accompanies the audience along the museum exhibition, dialoguing with some selected artworks through the voice of her instrument and inviting the audience to join the event: this action reformulates the museum space, livens up the artistic object, builds a new narration and creates a third work of art englobing the participants. In order to make resonate the artworks in the space, the musician writes new music, improvises or arranges existing pieces for her instrument, picturing to interpret the artistic objects as a musical score. The project, which was premiered in 2015 at the Strasbourg Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (France), is addressed also to blind or partially sighted people with the aim to allow this specific type of visitors to experience the meeting with art. Mixing performance art, installation art and sound art, the aim of the performance is to build a bridge between public and visual art through music, extending the duration of the contemplation of the artwork, multiplying the interdisciplinary viewpoints, provoking an emotion through a multisensory experience and redefining the way of enjoying the museum exhibition. Could music be an active character of the 21st century museum?

Keywords: Museum Exhibition; Musical Composition; Contemplation.


Isabella Fabbri, Italian saxophonist and researcher, is a creative and experimental artist particularly interested in the development of contemporary music, improvisation with live electronics and performances combining different art forms. She has performed in some of the most prestigious theaters and concert halls including Teatro alla Scala in Milan and Flagey in Bruxelles, as well as in international festivals like George Enescu Festival in Bucharest and Laberitos Sonoros Festival in Mexico City. Her solo Project “Sounds at an Exhibition” – a performance designed for museums of modern and contemporary art – won the Movin’up Prize 2015 supported by the Italian Ministry of Culture. Graduated in saxophone from the Conservatories of Milan and Strasbourg, she received her Master’s Degree in Musicology from the University of Pavia whilst also specializing in music cognition at the Teatro alla Scala Academy in Milan. She is now pursuing a PhD in Arts at the University of Lisbon.