For Garage’s sixth Atrium Commission Berlin-based artist Anri Sala presented an installation of sound and sculpture entitled The Last Resort. Responding to the architecture and acoustics of the 9.5-meter high atrium space, the artist has developed a site-specific work featuring thirty-eight snare drums that generate sound in response to vibrations emanating from loudspeakers within each instrument.
At the core of the piece is a new rendition of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major, written in 1791. One of the composer’s last works, it became a pivotal musical creation of the Enlightenment, which was a time when European nations were rethinking the constructs of politics and science. Exploring the cultural complexity of the period, Sala replaces the original tempo indications in Mozart’s composition with instructions based on wind conditions recorded by émigré James Bell during his sea voyage from England to Australia. At the time, winds and currents could significantly affect the journey and often determined its success or failure. Inserted into the score, the daily account of the weather transforms Mozart’s Concerto to reflect moments of doldrums, light breezes, strong gusts of wind, and storms. The composition is thus distorted—or, as Sala puts it, corrupted—by unforeseen travel conditions that go against the composer’s original intention. “My aim was to compose with corruption,” he explains. “I wanted to imagine […] what would become of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto if it were to float and drift like a message in a bottle, until it is washed ashore after a long voyage.” As such, The Last Resort amplifies what the artist describes as “contradiction between the departure point of some remarkable principles of the Enlightenment—such as tolerance and a non-judgmental acceptance of the other—and their fallouts on arrival, exacerbating prejudices, which in turn caused untold devastation and loss.”