Road Trip Day 11: Seattle Center

Our focus today was to see the sights in Seattle Center, which is where the Space Needle, the monorail, and the Experience Music Project are, among numerous other attractions.

We drove up from Puyallup and arrived around 11 am. We poked around a bit, and, feeling undercaffeinated, we stopped at the Starbucks – actually our first Starbucks experience in Seattle.

The EMP at Seattle CenterThe Experience Music Project was what we most wanted to see while in Seattle, so we headed that direction. We started by walking around the entire building just to take it in. You’ll see from the photos that it is a very unusual building. Those who are familiar with architect Frank Gehry will already know all about this project; the rest of you may be surprised by the cacophony of color, shape, and materials. It’s hard to describe, challenging to photograph well, and difficult to come up with an answer for the question, “Why?” Ultimately you just have to accept the building for what it is, let the experience happen to you – much like the museum itself. When we first walked in, there was an interactive kiosk that explained how the building was designed and built, which we found interesting and helpful.

Video Wall inside the Sky ChurchEntering the museum itself, the first place you enter is the Sky Church. It’s a tall, open space with perfect acoustics and a huge video screen (read a more detailed description by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer), where a wide variety of recorded music is played all day long. Stand in the middle of the room and it’s a great place to just experience the music – a great way to start the museum’s overall experience.

Just inside the turnstile was a small case with a tribute to Michael Jackson, displaying the white sequined glove and a black sequined jacket, with a short eulogy. Very appropriate.

Beyond that, in the middle of the museum’s center space, was a sculpture called “Roots and Branches”, a 35 ft cyclone-shaped structure made entirely of guitars and a few other instruments. It actually plays itself – it is computer-programmed to play the 600 instruments that compose the structure, and the music it makes is surprisingly enjoyable.

After entering, we turned our attention to the Jimi Hendrix exhibit, which was really spectacular. It was a really great mixture of artifacts, text, video, and audio. It provided a lot of info about Jimi while also giving visitors a chance to really experience his music. We were impressed. Adjacent to this exhibit was a video screening room that shows a loop of several videos about Jimi, which we sat and watched for about 10 minutes (the entire playlist of videos would require nearly an hour of one’s time).

We then checked out the Guitar Gallery, which was a slightly more conventional museum exhibit, displaying explanations of the evolution of the electric guitar along with examples of rare guitars to illustrate each milestone. In the center of this exhibit, though, was a video looping through various famous guitarists, giving the visitor a chance to hear and see the evolution as well.

The next gallery featured the evolution of music in the Northwest, which was also very well-done, informative, and enjoyable. Believe it or not, it was not just about the grunge movement of the late 80s-early 90s, though the gallery basically culminated with that. Dave and I spent a lot of time in that part of the exhibit. *smile*

Across the hall was an exhibit of oral histories by perhaps hundreds of musicians and other artists, telling their stories about their experiences. This was also very interactive – a number of computers with headphones are set up, each focusing on a different topic, with different video clips that the visitor could choose from to illustrate that particular topic. There are also audio-only versions that one can listen to on iPods, as well as at least one video screen playing to a space in the corner of the room. There’s also a little booth where you can record your own oral history of how music has impacted your life. (Not something Dave and I were really interested in doing.)

Upstairs was the sound lab, which is set up with a number of stations to allow visitors to try out different rock instruments. The stations have an interactive computer tutorial to walk you through what you need to do to play the drum kit, guitar, keyboard, mixing board, etc. There are also a number of tiny rooms along the walls with various instruments where you can go inside by yourself (or with a couple of friends) and just jam. The whole place was very overwhelming, because there were a whole lot of people (especially children) and everyone was queuing up to vie for one of the spots. I also suspect that this is probably a lot more fun and interesting for those who don’t see musical instruments and/or A/V equipment often. Of all of the things offered in this room, the drum kit was the only thing that Dave and I don’t either have at home or have regular access to. I lost interest pretty quickly, and spent some time listening to the guitar sculpture while Dave played with the drum kit.

Space Needle Reflection 2We had been in the museum for a few hours and it was getting to be mid-afternoon, so we left the museum and went over to the food court for lunch. Dave had Chinese while I got teriyaki, and we were glad to have a chance to sit still and eat for a bit.

After eating, we walked around outside for a little bit, taking photos. It had been overcast all morning, but we thought it would have burned off by this time (it was after 3 pm). Since it was still quite overcast, we determined that this wasn’t a good day to go up in the Space Needle, so we decided to save that for tomorrow.

We went back to the Sky Church, where they were scheduled to play the video of Jimi Hendrix doing the Star Spangled Banner. (This is something they have scheduled at specific times over the course of the day.) We carefully stood in the middle of the space so we could get the full effect. It was incredible – I highly recommend it. Overall, I highly recommend the Experience Music Project – it really is what the name suggests.

The EMP is actually the EMP-SFM, which is “Experience Music Project – Science Fiction Museum”. Also featured currently is a traveling exhibit called “Jim Henson’s Fantastic World”. I had been meaning to see this exhibit when it was at the Smithsonian a while back, and was glad to get the chance to finally see it. This exhibit is really enjoyable, interactive, and informative – if it comes to a museum near you, don’t miss out.

We were running out of time, so we breezed through the Sci Fi Museum’s exhibits, which were surprisingly of a more conventional museum design. Yes, there were some videos and a couple of interactive exhibits, but mostly it was a lot of artifacts stuffed into cases, and a lot of text. We were pretty fatigued at that point anyway, and less interested in the subject matter.

We left Seattle Center around 5 pm and headed to the Capitol Hill area to meet up with our friend Shana at the Elysian Fields Brewpub. Dave enjoyed a couple of selections from their beer menu, and it was great to catch up with Shana, who we hadn’t seen in a long time. It was a quick happy-hour visit, because we all had dinner plans.

Bridge TrollDave and I then drove up to Fremont to see our friend Susanna. She took us on a walking tour of various public art installations around Fremont, which was really fun. We saw the Fremont drawbridge open for some sailboats to go under, and then we walked along the canal to get to dinner. We had dinner at Brouwer’s Cafe, a spot well known to beer lovers. Dinner was delicious, the menu featured a number of beers that were unknown to Dave (surprisingly), and it was really great to hang out with Susanna.

It was a late night, and a long drive home. Surprisingly the State Patrol tally for today was only 4… largely because we just weren’t on the freeways much.

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