Sound maps are boring. Why? I would argue it’s because they’ve become stuck in a rut that began when the idea of ‘sound map’ became synonymous with online, Google API-based or other forms of point-and-click, CD-ROM era interface design. If we want sound maps to become less boring, this needs to stop. But how do we as sound artists (or would-be ‘sound cartographers’) break free of the point-and-click model? Continue reading →
I presented this paper at the 2015 Ecrea Media & The City conference at the Faculty of Political Sciences at the University of Zagreb.
You can read the abstract below.
The multisensory experience of museums is becoming increasingly relevant to curators, the visiting public, and academics, with many museums even beginning to include participatory activities based on listening to their own soundscapes in their public engagement programs. But what does it mean to listen to a visual environment? What are some effective strategies for engaging with a museum soundscape? Could listening to museums lead to the development of new cultural institutions devoted to sound? In my artistic practice, I have spent the last five years making sound maps of several museums and archives including the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (shortly before the Arab Spring revolution), the British Library’s Sound Archive, the Art Institute of Chicago, Tate Modern, and The Pitt Rivers at Oxford. Eschewing a top-down, Google Maps API approach, my sound maps exist as immersive sound compositions that lead the listener through an audio tour of a different kind, a cognitive map that juxtaposes the sounds of objects and environments in new configurations and contexts much like museum curators juxtapose items in exhibitions. In addition to the sound maps, I also make blind listening sketches of museum soundscapes in situ, closing my eyes and drawing the sounds I hear for a predetermined duration using a system of mark making that is gradually becoming a lexicon of museum sound symbols. My research into the sonic experience of museums presents these soundscapes as cognitive maps, my personal journeys that are moving closer and closer to an attempt to define the authentic essence of what museums sound like. In this paper, I document the inspirations and thinking behind my museum sound mapping strategies along with a selection of their results, including sound compositions, videos, and drawings that map my acts of listening to various museum spaces, archiving them for the future.
I have a new album of museum sounds that has just been announced for release on 1 July 2014 by the 3Leaves label. If you’re at all interested in listening to museums, this album is an hour of nothing but. Below is the short text I wrote to promote the album on the 3Leaves website; the CD comes with a much longer essay detailing its making. The album is currently available for pre-order, and you can hear a ten minute preview on SoundCloud.
“For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by museums — not just as places of looking and learning, but also of listening. To me, the soundscape of a museum resonates with the active sounds of history, the nexus between a museum’s contemporary sonic world and the historical objects housed within it. In my view, these sounds exist in the realms between documentary and drama, awe and aura.
This is the second installment of an ongoing series of psychogeographic sound maps of museums. Several hours of source recordings chronicling my interactions with and observations of every public space in the museum were secretly captured during the spring and summer of 2013, using only the built-in microphones of an Olympus LS-10 portable digital recorder. These sounds were then edited down to a highly composed, but unprocessed, hour-long impossible journey through the Art Institute of Chicago’s original building and its 2009 Renzo Piano-designed Modern Wing addition.”
Museums, although thought of as silent spaces, can be surprisingly noisy when listened to attentively. A large portion of my practice as an artist involves listening to museums, where the sonic collisions between present and past create what I have previously referred to as the active sounds of history (Kannenberg 2012, 8). While I am not suggesting we can listen to the past directly by looking at objects, I believe that contemporary sounds in museum spaces are experientially charged and transformed by their physical contact with the tangible cultural heritage of the past. This transformation is in part reliant upon the accepted authenticity of museum objects: Continue reading →
One of the most engaging books on sound I’ve read this year, “Victorian Soundscapes” examines the changing attitudes toward sound throughout the Victorian era by concentrating on the literature of the time. While previous knowledge of the written works referred to would obviously make this book’s conclusions even clearer than they already are, prior knowledge of the texts discussed isn’t necessary. Some of the works analyzed include Dickens’ “Dombey and Son,” George Eliot’s “Daniel Deronda,” Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Voice of Science,” Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” and Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” Along the way, other writings and events woven into the analysis include the writings on acoustics by Hermann von Helmhotz; the anti-immigrant cartoons of Punch magazine’s John Leech; the far-fetched theories about sound and the atmosphere put forth by father of the computer Charles Babbage; the saga of Thomas Carlyle’s attempt to design and build the first soundproof study in London; the histories of the development of the telephone, phonograph, and gramophone; and the origin of the painting “His Master’s Voice” featuring the Victor Dog. Continue reading →