Madeleine Chapman strikes a pose and mixes up a storm on Spark’s All Access Pass experience at the Volume exhibition in Auckland.
“I think you should retake that one.”
Laughing hysterically while trying not to cry, I looked at myself superimposed on to a Rip It Up magazine cover. There I was, eyelids half-closed, as if about to fall into a deep sleep. I would happily have ripped it up. But no need: a friendly woman was hovering by the machine, ready to reset the camera and erase my accidental Halloween tribute.
I was deep in the folds of Volume: Making Music in Aotearoa, the stunning exhibition currently showing at Auckland War Memorial Museum. But my own adventures in photographic hilarity weren’t from the exhibition proper, but the sixth station in Spark’s All Access Pass (AAP) experience. Designed to enhance the viewing experience and add a layer of interaction, these tools allowed me to insert myself into multiple eras of New Zealand musical history, while at the same time adding a layer of sweat to my entire body.
It began with a red carpet glam shot. After collecting our lanyards with special swipe cards, I and my colleagues (including my boss – because who doesn’t love social outings with their boss) posed in front of the exhibition entrance while a machine snapped our photo. Our group looked like a hip dad had brought his three adopted children to the museum. Once the photo appeared on the screen, we scanned our passes (pretty much as you’d scan a HOP card on the bus, but faster) and were told that the image was now loaded on to it and would be sent to us at the end of our trip. Very cool.
The exhibition began with the 2000s, helpfully including 2010-2016 as bonus years. The first thing we saw was a television playing four original music films that were shot in or around Auckland Museum itself. “Don’t Move” by Campbell was playing, with her performing live in the museum foyer accompanied by a choir in what was her first ever live performance. It looked and sounded great, with eerie speakers which were only audible when you stood directly in front of the screen. While in most museum experiences you have to balance the desire to absorb the object with the competing need to not hold up other museum-goers, thanks to the AAP I could scan my pass and the four original films were saved for private consumption at home.
We moved past Anika Moa’s songwriting and Lorde’s Grammy to the first truly interactive booth. A recording studio where you can help DJ Sir-Vere mix Che Fu’s “Fade Away”. I should’ve known that with the exhibition itself being all-ages, the fun stuff would be simple enough for children to complete. I should’ve known, but I didn’t. So instead of having a laugh and moving the controls up until the screen went green to signify a job well done, I panicked and went into some sort of flop sweat. With everyone watching I took a full minute to complete a task that should have taken me seconds. I felt a little embarrassed at how seriously I had just taken a child-friendly challenge – but at least I could listen to a Kiwi classic in the process. And DJ Sir-Vere turned out to be a generous marker: Not bad!
Next was the DJ station where I could play around with mixing two songs and adding samples. I messed around with the beats (that’s the language, right?) for a spell and s0 wasn’t ready for the photo despite setting it up myself. It was a good time – I could’ve stayed at that station for ages, mixing songs together, adding samples at incorrect intervals, and creating several hundred top-ten hits, but it was time to move on.
Which brings us to the Rip It Up Cover Station. A moment that will keep me awake at night for years to come. It was a classic photo booth situation: stand in front of the machine, strike a pose, choose a cover layout. Bam, you’re on the cover of Rip It Up.
“Don’t just stand there,” they said.
“Do something cool,” they said.
“Make it unique,” they said.
“Don’t fuck it up,” I said to myself.
And that’s exactly what I did.
Jesus take the wheel, I’m seeing a light and I’m walking towards it. Take me to the promised land, away from this hell. I could have redone it. I should have redone it. But sometimes a truly terrible photo is remembered long after a decent photo has been forgotten and untagged on Facebook.
Things did start to look up for old Mad after the Terrible Photo. The next station allowed me to make a band poster, a wish fulfilled for someone with zero musical ability. It was the only station that didn’t involve my face and therefore I excelled.
By the time we got to the final station, where you get to insert your face into an old episode of C’mon, I was ready. The trick is to make yourself look bad on purpose before you can look bad by accident. I actually did this one three times because it was so fun. There truly is nothing better than a video face swap.
On the way through I cheerfully scanned my pass to collect curated Spotify playlists. Selected by different New Zealand artists like Ladi6 and Jordan Luck, each represents the tone and heart of a decade in New Zealand music. For someone who probably hasn’t listened to as much local music as I should have, the playlists have allowed my lazy self to catch up on five decades of Aotearoa hits, while also realising that a lot of songs I thought were American were actually by New Zealand bands. Prime example: “April Sun in Cuba”. Dragon is a New Zealand band? Might as well revoke my citizenship right now.
By the time I got to the final exhibit (450 images of influential New Zealand artists), I was as exhausted and elated as a rock star completing a heroic encore. There stood a row of machines, the final step in the experience and the one thing I had to get right or risk losing all my hard work. I very carefully entered my email into the machine, scanned my pass one last time, and deposited the pass into a box. My phone immediately buzzed to let me know that my glorious feats were now immortalised in my inbox alongside the original films and playlists I’d collected.
It was a novelty to go through an exhibition collecting items and souvenirs without having to lug anything physically out the door. As far as the interactive stations go, children will absolutely love it. Children will love it and people who enjoy using a selfie stick in public will love it to the point of combustion. If you’re like me and start fretting at the first sign of public performance, you might for a moment hesitate at the prospect of striking a pose in the middle of the museum floor. But do it anyway, embrace it: you might discover a missed calling – or, at least, your friends might enjoy having permanent and undeniable evidence that you are better suited writing for magazines than trying to appear on their covers.