Music design


Gas is a mixed-media installation by Callum Morton. A scale model of a contemporary streamlined service station appears a clinical simulation of its referent – until one notices that one of the pump guns is left on the ground, spilling forth a huge pool of petrol. This dramatic tableaux accentuates the ‘people-less’ domain of architectural models, and their proto-zombie aura is something Callum has explored in much of his sculptural models. From within the service station, muzak gently plays – imbuing the scenario with a fatal irony as disaster is likely to occur within this fictional world while the muzak plays on.


Sculptural installation - Callum Morton
Background music - Philip Brophy


Premiere exhibition - Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney


Callum secured Philip to provide the muzak for this mixed-media installation. Discussions centered on the original concept (Philip saw no images or sketches of the model, but had the scenario of the pooling petrol described in detail). This commission rested largely in an understanding of the sensibility of the project and of Callum’s work in general: a service station about to explode is funny, and you either get it or not.

Philip pointed out that ‘muzak’ in its classical 50s form had well and truly died in everyday life, so discussions ensued as to how the feel of muzak could be conveyed in the exhibition. Philip suggested he do a muzak version of an Australian hard rock anthem: both Callum liked this approach to the Australian Rock music industry. Philip directed Callum to bring a CD of a song he truly hates. Callum bought in Moving Pictures’ “What About Me” – a maudlin 80’s soft-rock anthem in the sub-Springsteen stream of pathos-wrung ballads. Philip constructed a version and Callum placed it within the installation.


The process for ‘muzaking’ rock songs is an easy-enough procedure, just as it was to pick an easy target like Moving Pictures’ “What About Me”. Philip employed a range of near-embarrassing standard factory samples on the ASR – big tom drums, electric bass, fender Rhodes, nylon string guitar, flute, etc. – and replicated a soft-rock sound. Something between Seals & Croft, Gordon Lightfoot, and the Starlight Vocal Band. The arrangement is palatable, bland, slick, and competent. The mix was completed in mono, and equalization and reverb were employed to further diffuse the music so as to render it wholly soft and fuzzy.