Clubbing at the museum? Is that even possible during Covid-19?! The new Munch Museum in Oslo explores the landscape between art and clubbing by putting on the performance “Echoic Choir” by Stine Janvin og Ula Sickles. Through a vocal and physical abstraction of electronic club music,  the performance takes the audience through the motions of a night out in only 45 minutes.

The Munch Museum and Munch Live

Edvard Munch is probably the most famous artist ever coming from Norway, with iconic paintings like Scream and Madonna. Apparently the term «Munch» is 4 times more famous internationally than «Norway», the country that bred him. Less known is the fact that the Munch museum isn’t only about paintings, it also has a history of putting up various performances and concerts. 

So when the Munch Museum recently moved out of its old and worn-out building at Tøyen and into a huge new building at Bjørvika (of which very much is said already, so I won’t get into that), a whole new part of Oslo, the Munch administration deliberately changed the name from «Munch-museet» (the Munch Museum) to simply «Munch». This seemingly small change is still significant, as it aims to guide both Munch and the audience to expect more than art expositions. Also, this is reflected in the building, which has several performance venues, including a beautiful concert hall.   

These venues will be used for the exploration of genre-crossing art forms, like music, performances, films, talks and more.

Echoic Choir – the performance

Recently, the performance «Echoic Choir» was shown in the concert hall of the Much Museum. The audience was guided into the main concert hall of Much, already dark and nearly full. Social distancing was still maintained – we all got our tape-marked spot to stand on, and we all needed to wear our face masks. The room was scattered with lights on sticks and speakers on stands. There were 6 zones in the room, which were more clearly lit than the rest of the room and after a bit I understood that there was one zone for each dancer. My spot was right next to a male dancer who wore a heavy latex see-through shirt, black latex trousers and boots. 

Echoic Choir 2021

Then the vocals began. No words for now, just sounds, and I realized that the dancers all had microphones. Slowly the vocals became more musical (was it mixed with music? I couldn’t tell). And then all the light sticks suddenly turned into strobe lights and the performers start counting: «1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4». Over and over. The counting varied, in the sense that one dancer said «1», the next said «2» and so on, and the way they did this varied over time. So we both got repetitiveness but also some dynamics – elements easily recognizable from dance music. 

Also, the dancers moved increasingly more like people do when they’re on the dance floor. It felt both a bit awkward and also slightly intimidating to stand right next to the dancer, but I senses he was getting more and more into the groove of the trance like counting «1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4», over and over, mixed with various vocal outcries. 

Then the performers rotated and another dancer turned up in front of me. Her hair seemed to be dripping with sweat, like she has been clubbing forever. She also moved very differently from the former dancer, and this adds another element of variation in the performance. Also, when I looked at the other dancers I can see from my position, I noticed there were significant variations in how they danced, and also the intensity of the dancing. The dancer in front of me was dancing quite slowly, controlled, while the dancer next to her was intense, almost peaking at a climax, which he soon came out of, falling slowly to the floor, resting. 

Echoic Choir 2021

Then the vocals turned into chanting, and I started to hear phrases like «climax, anti-climax, repetition, endless repetition» and «collecting sweat off the ceiling». This was truly like hearing of an intense night of raving in a Berlin bunker and at the same time seeing it right in front of you – without being able to attend. I was the spectator on the outside, only allowed to watch and listen to what was going on on the inside. If I didn’t feel a longing for the clubs, the music and the sensations that come with it before, I really felt it now. 

And then the kick hit. A simple four-on-the-floor kick drum, and it hit at exactly the right time. I wasn’t able to stand still anymore, but at the same time, I felt constrained from dancing. I felt like it just wouldn’t be right, I still felt I was left on the outside, longing for what was going on on the inside. 

And that, I think, is what Echoic Choir is all about. Through a vocal and physical abstraction of electronic club music,  it takes the audience through the motions of a night out in only 45 minutes. But still, we cannot indulge, only watch, dream of it and long for it. 

After the performance, my head was spinning with emotions and questions and now, several days after, I am still very much touched by the experience. To me, Echoic Choir proved to be very much more than a vocal and physical interpretation of club music, but I have still not been able to express all the questions, thoughts and emotions it brought up in my mind. And hopefully the performance will be with me, spinning in my mind, occupying my dreams, for a long time still. 

It matters

The performance was a very successful piece of evidence that Munch is capable of attracting and hosting performances with great relevance to people who are into clubbing, raving and electronic music. By looking at their program, I can tell there are several events which should appeal to Monument’s followers. 

It matters because performances like Echoic Choir challenge the perception about what clubbing, club culture and club music is about and, not the least, where it belongs. Typically, clubbing takes place at the clubs and art exhibitions and performances at the museums. There are great exceptions to this rule, however, like the CTM festival in Berlin. Now Munch leads the way in tearing down the silo walls between clubbing and “serious art” in Norway, and this is promising, indeed, for everyone who’s willing to take a step outside of their comfort zone. There are great rewards to be had!