Saturday, February 9, 2013

Experience Music Project Hardhat Tour April, 2000

This is from a hardhat tour I took of the Experience Music Project in Seattle as it was nearing completion April, 2000.

Note the Guitar World Special Issue Sept. 1985, edited by yours truly, Noë the G.

I wrote about it in this article, which was syndicated by the BPI Newswire but has somehow disappeared from cyberspace. Now it's back.

Experience This / A first look at Paul Allen's ambitious rock'n' roll temple

The Hollywood Reporter
June 13, 2000

By Noë Gold
All photos by Noë Gold

The high walls of the Sky Church are rumbling, literally shaking with a presence that is not of this Earth.

On the physical plane, the cavernous exhibition hall sits in Seattle, a few yards from the terminus of the monorail that links the city's downtown to its monolithic Space Needle.

On the spiritual plane, Jimi Hendrix, the avatar of guitar-driven rock 'n' roll who first asked "Are You Experienced?" is very much in the house -- a gleaming, new house that media mogul Paul G. Allen has built to honor popular American music.

The Sky Church is the spiritual centerpiece of the soon-to-open Experience Music Project, a massive museum designed by famed architect Frank O. Gehry to enclose 140,000 square feet of free-flowing, music-related exhibits on a 35,000 square-foot plot of land carved out of the city's once-grand Seattle Center.

The references to the Seattle-born Hendrix are intentional. The museum's mission, its founders say, is to have people experience the music. Come June 23, the first paying guests will find out what's going on inside the twisted, sky blue and magenta-hued piece of architecture that has been under construction since 1997.

The Sky Church concept is taken from one of Hendrix's dreams, in which he described a place where all diverse people could come together to appreciate music. The space fulfills Hendrix's prophecy by doubling as a grand exhibition hall by day and a performance space at night.

The EMP itself can be described as a museum with aspects of a theme park, through which people will take a "ride" amid the cultural artifacts that celebrate the blues-based, soul-inflected, rockabilly roots of American music.

More than 800,000 are expected to visit the nonprofit facility each year, with top ticket prices set at $19.95.

The museum opens with a party that will include musical performances by James Brown, Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Eminem and Snoop Dogg, Alanis Morissette, Eurythmics and Bo Diddley. MTV and VH1 will televise much of the hoopla.

Jody Patton, the EMP's co-founder and executive director and Allen's sister, dates the museum's genesis to 1992, when she and her brother attended a Sotheby's auction of rock 'n' roll memorabilia.

"Paul was intrigued by the artifacts," she says, "and we did the bidding. When the pieces arrived, we gingerly unpacked these things and we were in awe of how the spirit of the person who used them becomes imbued in the personal article. Paul said, 'If I think this stuff is really neat, then other people will be moved as well.'"

In Allen's longhair days, he played a Fender guitar. The obsession continues, except today Allen owns the Stratocaster that Hendrix played at Woodstock in 1969. And a whole lot of other stuff -- 80,000 artifacts, in fact, now reside here. More than 1,200 of them will be on display at at any given time.

The EMP's Hendrix Gallery enshrines the contract signed by the musician for Woodstock, revered objects of Hendrix's outrageous clothing and Allen's version of pieces of the cross: fragments of a guitar Hendrix smashed and burned at 1967's Monterey International Pop Festival.

The Guitar Gallery gives museum-style prominence to artifacts of rock like an early electric lap steel guitar, a Gibson Flying V prototype and axes played by the likes of the Byrds' Roger McGuinn and bluesman Tampa Red. There is a trumpet from Quincy Jones' early days in Seattle and song lyrics by another Seattlite, the late grunge rocker Kurt Cobain. Bob Dylan's harmonica and Janis Joplin's pants are there, too.

A recent hard-hat tour reveals EMP is no mere memorabilia collection. Flat-screen monitors and interactive displays are everywhere. A snaking corridor leads to the "Crossroads" exhibit, the main exhibition area, where disparate musicians like Hendrix, hip-hop and Bing Crosby meet via multimedia.

Patrons can also wander into hands-on personal studios, where they can try their hands at keyboards, drums and guitars.

The facility is truly wired, with organizers especially proud of the flooring itself, a raised platform made of modular concrete slabs that can be removed and bolted down to give technicians access to miles of high-definition optical cable and ISDN lines.

Via a modular data processing unit called a MEG, visitors can zoom in on various exhibits and receive data about what they are seeing. They can then download bookmarks that may be accessed later.

In researching his designs for the building, Gehry visited a music store and looked at guitars, bringing some home and deconstructing them. "It's not supposed to be a smashed-up guitar," says EMP's design and construction project manager, Paul Zumwalt, who created the Portland Trail Blazers' Rose Garden basketball arena, another Paul Allen edifice. "It's about the spirit of the music, with its flow and movement."

Originally, the monorail was supposed to stop short of the building. But when Gehry saw that the monorail bisected the site, he began to play.

Allen and his sister wanted an architectural design that "could literally express the way we respond to the music." And the music she was describing is anything but conventional. Allen used the word "swoopy."

Swoopy is what they got. There is not a right angle in the place. Neighbors who watched the building come together were mystified by what looked like a jumble of curved metallic sections reaching up into the sky.

"What appealed to me about Frank," Patton says of the architect," was his commitment to exploring the process. ... His designs go to a new place aesthetically -- the curves. It is a living, moving, organic thing."

Kind of like Electric Ladyland.