by Leslie Lang
Depending on your line of sight, its exterior looks alternately like a giant, melted-down guitar, a stretched-out suit of armor or various chambers of the human heart. Oh, and there’s a monorail running through the middle of it....
photos by Tom Barwick
Seattle’s two-year-old Experience Music Project rock ‘n’ roll museum—started by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen and housed in a wild building designed by superstar architect Frank Gehry—is a righteously unconventional tribute to the rebellious art-form it celebrates. Inside, past a mind-blowing thirty-five-foot sculpture that plays music on no less than 600 instruments, the Guitar Gallery offers a tribute to those who were rocking even before anyone thought to call it that—including classic Hawaiian musicians Joseph Kekuku and the Sol Ho‘opi‘i Trio, whose 1920s-era photos hang on the walls.
"Inspired Hawaiians invent a new way to play," reads a sign in front of an 1880s Hawaiian steel guitar. "Radical new style marked a turning point in guitar history," says another. Also on view is a suitably wild 1920s Stroh Hawaiian guitar: Its strings attached with squares of tortoise shell, the guitar sports a large silver horn similar to those found on an old Victrola—a cumbersome but useful addition in those pre-microphone days.
The EMP also offers exhibits on celebrated Seattle-ite Jimi Hendrix; a performance space with the world’s largest indoor video screen; interactive sound labs where you can record CDs or learn to play instruments; and much more. And how is the museum faring with a fan base notorious for its short attention span? "This place is great, man," muttered a twenty-something visitor recently.
"I could stay here all day."
Experience Music Project