Music Design


KABOOM! Explosive Animation from American & Japan was a major exhibition curated by Philip Brophy and commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney in 1994. The exhibition covered 2 entire floors of the museum and ran for 3 months.

The approach of the exhibition was to draw 'postwar' connections between America and Japan and find deeper resonances in the post-atomic effects which have conjoined both countries' popular culture since. The curatorial concept was to define an 'explosive' aspect in animators' work, generating cultural perspectives that distinguished their modern/postmodern appeal from the classical tradition exemplified by the Disney studio's legacy.

The design of the exhibition was based on recreating in some measure the 'explosive' impact of the animations themselves. The exhibition was an audiovisual assault of the senses, designed to capture the vertiginous feel of the animations. The music designed for the exhibition is a 60 minute piece, looped and played on on a network of speakers throughout the spaces of the museum.


Music, production & mix - Philip Brophy
On-site speaker installation - Kevin Davidson


Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney


To match the immersive nature of the exhibition design, a single 60 minute piece of music was composed. It contains 6 sections, each of which rise in intensity and come down across a ten minute arc. A fixed tempo governs the whole suite, though some sections are ambient and devoid of pulse. The general style of the music is electronic - sometimes dissonantly ambient, other times veering into hybrid techno.

In further keeping with the exhibition's transcultural frame of reference, the music seeks to merge Japanese and American references. The exhibition's themes are centred on how animation was typified in both countries at the nexus of World War II. In the lead-up to the war, during it, and in its consumerist expansion afterwards, American animation exaggerated the sounds of industry. Sound effects were bombastic, percussive and assaultive - from Mickey Mouse pulling cows' tails to make boogie-woogie to the Coyote being dynamited again and again. While Japanese animation pre-war aped Disney models, after the war it redefined the art form with fantastic cyborg imaginings of a technologically advanced future - from Astro Boy's echoic electronic squeaks to Akira's neo-global sampledelic synthetic fusions.

The music for Kaboom seeks to fuse, compact and atomize those sonic characteristics into the one evolving piece.


Prior to composing the piece, a list of elements were drafted which stylistically or symbolically evoke each culture's animated soundscapes:

AMERICA - dynamite explosions, trains chugging, brass bands marching, garish human shapes, vaudevillian gags.
JAPAN - nuclear detonations, space-ships launching, unsettling mutant forms, scientific dynamics.

These were then 'imagined' sonically with samples, processing, and synth lines for the 6 sections of the composed piece. Accordingly, sometimes the music sounds alien/futuristic; other times it sounds mutant/jazzy.

The composition was constructed on an ASR sampling workstation using the system's internal sequencer and mixer. All sounds were sampled from sounds created on analog synthesizers (Roland and Korg) and processed in the ASR.

The stereo mix of the final 60 minute composition was played back on a network of amplifiers connected to arrays of speakers throughout the main spaces with the animation playing on the monitors encased in orange bubbles.