Studying our popular culture gives us insight into the power art has over us and within us, like taking a pulse on what we value and enjoy the most. To understand it is to understand how and why we consume art. The history of American pop culture is as vast as it is varied. One cannot discuss its influence without bringing up Rock ‘n’ Roll as a profound force. A historically American genre of pop music, Rock ‘n’ Roll was borne out of our need for expression, curiosity, and independence.
If Rock music rattled our cultural conventions, Seattle, Washington, has been one of its most spirited epicenters. Seattle has fostered some of Rock’s most revolutionary acts to date. Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Modest Mouse, The Foo Fighters, and Macklemore are on the short list of Seattleites who have transformed Rock forever.
Enter stage left: the EMP Museum, located in the bustling Seattle Center within a stone’s throw from the Seattle Space Needle. The EMP isn’t just a museum: it’s an experience, fashioned by pop culture fans for pop culture fans. Its mission is to inspire us to explore and develop our own creative and imaginative potential by making our own art.
The brainchild of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the EMP Museum opened in 2000 to unprecedented acclaim among music buffs, pop culture critics, academics, artists and musicians. Allen’s original vision for the museum was to commemorate the legacy of his childhood Rock hero, Jimi Hendrix. The EMP Museum began as Allen’s tribute to Hendrix and other pop music icons, but it has evolved into a celebration of pop culture in general. Not only does the EMP memorialize the history of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Hip Hop, and Disco, it also honors the legacies of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror genres.
In addition to its eclectic, 140,000 square foot interior, the EMP’s remarkable exterior enjoys international celebrity. Designed by the world-renowned, architectural virtuoso, Frank O. Gehry, the EMP’s layout is unconventionally innovative. The psychedelic and serpentine coherence of its patch-worked shapes is aesthetically compelling, urging visitors to begin an unforgettable voyage.
Its fluid, metallic sheen has an organic and futuristic elegance. It’s as if all the glamour of Rock ‘n’ Roll were reincarnated into one building—and that’s the point. In conceptualizing the EMP’s appearance, Gehry sought to capture the undulating nature of music, itself. He cut apart a number of guitars and reassembled them into a rippling collage, which became his blueprint for the final look of the museum.
The Sound Lab is the crown jewel of the museum and truly makes the EMP special. The Sound Lab offers visitors an interactive, multi-media environment in which to engage their own musicianship. If you’ve never played an instrument, and have always wanted to learn, you can choose from a wide variety of instruments to experiment with. A sweeping collection of guitars, drums, keyboards, samplers, and mixing consoles encourage the creative imagination in everyone. Already familiar with the guitar? The Sound Lab features hands-on modules, which teach you new riffs and techniques. You can even jam with your friends on different instruments at the same time in Lab’s Jam Studio or in one of its Soundproof Rooms. As it opens your mind to your own, unique, creative potential, the Sound Lab will electrify your imagination well after your visit to the museum.
325 5th Avenue, North
Seattle, Washington 98109
By: Christopher J. Rosas
Photos: Allen Carrasco, Brady Harvey & Christopher Nelson courtesy of EMP Museum