Elvis Presley, Sonic Youth Share Space In Interactive Museum

Seattle's new $240 million Experience Music Project will open June 23.

SEATTLE — Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame may have a
five-year head start, but the Experience Music Project, which opens June 23, is betting that its emphasis on technology will lure music fans curious to learn about pop music’s past.

The Experience Music Project is “the cutting edge of what we should
expect in a museum in the 21st century,” said Bob Santelli, vice
president of education and public programs at the Rock and Roll Hall of
Fame, who will assume a similar role at EMP in August. “When you go to
EMP, you’re going to walk away with a lot of knowledge and inspiration.
You’re also going to have a lot of fun.”

For months, residents of Seattle have driven past the city’s newest
landmark — a wavy green, red, sky blue, silver, purple and copper
behemoth designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry and sponsored by
local billionaire Paul Allen — as it rose in the shadow of the
Space Needle.

In early June, organizers gave the press its first significant glimpse
inside — where artifacts from Jimi
Hendrix
, Muddy Waters and others are on display — and a better idea of how many high-tech frills $240 million can buy.

The tour first scaled a long flight of stairs before stopping in a large foyer dominated by a curved, IMAX-style video screen. About 50 feet overhead, a series of sculptures that resemble upside-down jellyfish with dangling disco balls respired rhythmically. This is Sky Church, a live and multimedia performance hall that will alternately provide quiet ambience and serve as a site for after-hours events.

House Of Worship

“Sky Church is the first room people enter after they enter the
building,” explained Paul Pedersen, museum spokesperson. “It may be
quiet, [or] it may be a very sensory experience.”

Visitors got a glimpse of the latter with a short video demonstration.
Onlookers were bathed in an eerie, flickering glow as rockets, shapes
and kaleidoscope colors raced across the screen to an overwhelming
cacophony of breakbeats, rock music and robotic voices.

Then it was off to Crossroads, EMP’s series of exhibits. Before visitors enter Crossroads, however, they are confronted by a towering sculpture that looks something like an upside-down Christmas tree composed of more than 500 used musical instruments, most of them guitars.

“We wanted a sculpture that really represented the collision of forces
that produces rock ‘n’ roll,” Pedersen said. “We’ve been collecting
guitars on a weekly basis from private individuals and guitar centers.
They had one life, and now they have a new life here at EMP.”

The sculpture is more than just eye candy. Some of the instruments have
been specially wired to play music as patrons browse, explained the
creator, a Seattle artist simply named Trimpin. “It could sound like a
Hendrix piece or an acoustic guitar,” he said.

Guests were then whisked away to one of five exhibits, the Milestones
Gallery, a collection of memorabilia that catalogs rock’s evolution from the ’50s to the present. Toward the front end of the gallery is a

black-and-white likeness of rhythm & blues legend Bo Diddley smiling as he strums his square
guitar.

A nearby display case holds a tattered Harmony Stratotone guitar that
rockabilly pioneer Carl Perkins
played in 1957. Another holds a black leather jacket worn by COLOR="#003163">Elvis Presley in the early ’60s. Near the
rear are more contemporary displays documenting the history of hip-hop
and showcasing memorabilia from popular rock groups such as COLOR="#003163">Sonic Youth.

Interactive Tour

But guests won’t simply walk through and casually browse. Robert
Fitzsimmons, a bespectacled man with a hard hat labeled “chief geek,”
showed off a device called the Museum Exhibit Guide. The tiny unit hung over Fitzsimmons’ shoulder and rested against his hip like some sort of Space Age purse. The hip pack includes a set of headphones and a device that appears to be a hybrid between a Palm Pilot and a television remote control.

“Everyone who comes in will be handed a MEG and have random access to a variety of subjects,” Fitzsimmons said. Each MEG has a 6-gigabyte hard drive loaded with more than 1,100 audio clips. Browsers can randomly access up to 11 hours worth of material.

He demonstrated by pointing the MEG’s flashing remote at the Carl
Perkins display. Computer speakers were soon giving an account of the
early days of rockabilly, which patrons later this month will be able to hear through their own headsets.

MEG also allows patrons to bookmark certain exhibits to browse at home
through EMP’s Virtual Library, which can be accessed online at
emplive.com.

The press tour revealed only a fraction of what will be available in the 140,000-square-foot building. Among the other features of the Experience Music Project are:

  • Artist’s Journey: Patrons sit on a 38-seat, moving platform while
    watching a 14-foot, clamshell-shaped screen. The first presentation,
    “Funk Blast,” stars the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, in a 20-minute ride that mixes history with music and special effects.

  • Sound Lab: A futuristic studio where participants interact with
    music by playing guitars, drums and keyboards. Even those who haven’t
    played an instrument before can learn basic skills, organizers said.

  • Experience Arts Camp: This day camp, for children ages 7 to 15,
    gives participants a chance to learn from artists such as Seattle rapper Sir Mix-a-Lot and actor Tom
    Skerritt.

  • Electric Bus: This vehicle will tour the country with samples of
    EMP exhibits, a recording studio, a performance stage and various forms of music-making technology.

  • Performance areas, including the 200-seat JBL Theater.

    Organizers expect 800,000 visitors during EMP’s first year. The building has room to accommodate 2,250 visitors at any given time. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame had more than 1 million visitors its first year, more than double what organizers had expected, Santelli said. Today, the museum averages 500,000 to 600,000 visitors a year, he said. “We’re still by far the most visited hall of fame in the world.”

    Microsoft co-founder Allen originally announced that he would build a
    museum dedicated to ’60s rock icon Jimi Hendrix; he and sister Jo Allen Patton had amassed one of the largest known collections of Hendrix memorabilia. However, the project grew to incorporate rock history, from early rhythm & blues to today’s pop charts.

    EMP houses more than 100,000 artifacts, and about $140 million of the
    project’s price tag went into its displays. Opening weekend at EMP will feature several big shows and artist-led workshops at the museum and surrounding concert venues. Some events will be broadcast live on MTV and VH1, organizers said. (Sonicnet.com’s parent company, Viacom, also owns MTV and VH1.)

    Featured performances include:

    June 23

  • Junior Brown, COLOR="#003163">Bob Mould, Pedro the Lion, 3 p.m. Flag Plaza, free.

  • Patti Smith, COLOR="#003163">Dave Alvin & the Guilty Men, COLOR="#003163">Christy McWilson, 4 p.m. at Mural
    Amphitheatre, free.

  • Metallica, COLOR="#003163">Dr. Dre, Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kid Rock, Filter, 6 p.m. at Memorial Stadium, $59.50.

  • Rickie Lee Jones, 8 p.m. at
    Bagley Wright Theatre, $25.

    June 24

  • Taj Mahal & the Phantom Blues
    Band
    , Bo Diddley,
    Johnnie Johnson, COLOR="#003163">Big Jay McNeely with the COLOR="#003163">Palace of Culture, Thumbs Up, 1:30 p.m., Mural Amphitheatre, free.

  • Matchbox Twenty, COLOR="#003163">No Doubt, Alanis
    Morissette
    , Beck,
    Eurythmics, 6 p.m. at Memorial
    Stadium, $40 to $150.

  • DJ/electronica show featuring Gus Gus, 9 p.m. at Flag Pavillion, $10.

    June 25

  • Screaming Trees, COLOR="#003163">Queensrÿche, Ann and Nancy Wilson, Built to Spill, Fastbacks, Metal Madness, Northwest All Stars, Subset, Sonics Tribute, Young Fresh Fellows, 2 p.m. at Memorial Stadium, $15.

  • James Brown, COLOR="#003163">Maceo Parker, 7 p.m. at Key Arena, $25 to
    $40.

  • Bill Frisell, COLOR="#003163">Greg Leisz, David
    Piltch
    , Joey Baron,
    Kevin Breit, Brandon Ross, Larry
    Coryell
    , 8 p.m. at Bagley Wright Theater, $15.