Meditation Experience At The Kemper Blends Music And Art In Unexpected Ways

May 13, 2016

An electronic soundscape greets visitors to the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art on a recent Sunday afternoon. Some carry yoga mats as they walk into the main gallery, and settle in on the floor. Musician and composer Paul Rudy stands in front of a large-scale collage of rice paper, and wooden shelves lined with ceramics.

Rudy is tall, and dressed all in white, with a golden scarf. He chooses an instrument — and the musical meditation experience begins.

Museum visitor Bobbie Martin says she came to the Kemper because she was intrigued by the unique combination of meditation and art.

Museum visitor Anne Burkart meditates on the floor of the Kemper.
Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

“Things like this allow me to let go of some of the agitation and find a new place, a more harmonious place inside of myself,” says Martin. “Which, of course, is what meditation is all about, but you add in the color and the art and sound why it just enhances everything. It’s taking all of our senses and moving them into a harmonious place.”

Erin Dziedzic, director of curatorial affairs at the Kemper, says programming like this connects visitors with art in unexpected ways.

“Paul has a great following,” says Dziedzic. “He has people who know him as a fabulous sound designer and as a sound practitioner and so I really wanted to engage his audience too into the museum as people who might not have had a chance to come to the Kemper Museum yet.”

Rudy sings as he visualizes the work on the walls of the gallery.
Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

Rudy teaches music composition at the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance. A visit to Rudy’s office is a sonic adventure of its own. Music from a wind harp and other sounds recorded at Rudy’s farm in Perry, Kansas, drift in from speakers.

“Sound meditation has actually helped me understand that what I do in all this stuff is facilitate experience, whether it’s visual or audio-visual or vibrationally experiential," Rudy says.

"And so, going back to the Kemper, being in there with the art, responding to the art and the people responding to art, and the people themselves, is the ultimate experience. And it’s an ultimate experience for me too as a performer and artist. To me, it’s an ultimate experience for all of us.”

Rudy drums as he walks past Mark Cooper's mixed-media installation.
Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

This was Rudy’s second ‘Art Sounds’ meditation event at the Kemper. About two dozen people participated.

Tuyen Pham says that the combination of art and relaxation was what she needed to unwind after a hectic work week.

“I really like this meditation experience because we all live busy lives and I don’t really take a moment out of my day to just not do anything and just kind of relax,” says Pham. “What most people do is maybe just watch Netflix, or (laughs) go out for drinks with their friends but not just really a moment to be at ease with yourself and your mind.”

Ceramic masks peer out from the gallery walls as Rudy walks by with his drum.
Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM

Dziedzic says Rudy’s full of musical surprises.

“My question would be what instrument is he not bringing, because last time he had a gong, I think he had a didgeridoo last time,” Dziedzic says. “He also had created some scores on his computer ahead of time, so it’s a lot of electronic media that’s combined with his instruments.”

Rudy’s challenge on this Sunday was to perform alongside the diverse artwork of six ceramic-based artists in the exhibit at the Kemper called, “A Whisper of Where It Came From.” As part of researching the performance, Rudy honed in on artist Mark Cooper's large-scale collage.

“I’m visualizing like these floating pods and the pods themselves are multimedia so there’s lots of different materials, there’s wood, there’s ceramics, there’s paper. I know there’s fabric,” Rudy says. “All these things, it’s like all these different materials and that’s what I do in sound. I bring a lot of different materials together and try to make them cohesive in a single space, you know, which for me is time. That space is time in music.”

It was this kind of interaction with the paintings and sculpture on display that first drew Dziedzic to Rudy’s music.

“Giving people a multi sensory experience is really important,” says Dziedzic. “But I also think it’s just really fun to broaden the way we think about our exhibitions by introducing people to new ways of experiencing a show. Or if they come regularly, people who really love coming and having a meditative experience in a different space than what they may be used to.”

After an hour of meditation, a few people wandered around the exhibit space to get a closer look at the art on the walls.

“I feel like though, if you close your eyes, you are in a different space with him,” says Anne Burkart. “I feel like I’ve been in a cave today. There’s been rain, there’s been water elements, and then you look at the artwork and and it looks as if it’s the remnants of a fire in pottery, in tools, in pieces of horn.”

Rudy says this kind of musical exploration fuels his work.

“This is the stuff that gets me out of bed and keeps me going because it’s stuff I can’t design always,” says Rudy. “It’s stuff that I can’t predict. It’s stuff that can’t predict me.  And yeah, so like I feel like I’m born again. Like all this creative foam is like boiling and really interesting stuff is coming out of it.”

Rudy says he hopes that the music he creates gives people a deeper connection to the art in the galleries. 

Julie Denesha is a freelance photographer and reporter for KCUR. Follow her @juliedenesha.