Category Archives: space

Listening to Museums: Sound Mapping Strategies for Visual Environments

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.

Why Listen to Museums?

This is the text of a talk I gave during the Soundscapes Late event at the National Gallery in London on 4 September, 2015. You can also download and listen to a recording of the talk on my SoundCloud page. Continue reading

Site Writing: 21.11.2014 National Gallery, Room 32, 1:55pm

It was misting as I walked past the fountains in Trafalgar Square: white noise, grey day. Moments before, I had woven a curving path through the Square, noticing where the sound of the fountain became blocked by the base of Nelson’s Column. This time it was a consistent swish, a rising and falling as I approached and then passed: a fade in/fade out. A turn of a dial. Continue reading

A Sound Map of the Art Institute of Chicago

A Sound Map of the Art Institute of Chicago

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.”

Towards a Poetics of Museum Sound

i. Collections

An urge,
an unheard whisper in the ear,
a yearning for that
complete set,
that rarity that only we –
the privileged, the possessors –
can call our own
and control who sees it or hears it.

ii. Objects

This multitude of things
material or intangible
mute or loquacious
produced by culture
assumed authentic
obtained through
– excavation
– plunder
– exchange
selected by a few
desired by many
seen or unseen
with aural auras
untouchable
yet somehow accessible
if deemed worthy.


iii. Galleries

The display of our wares
our triumphs
our tragedies
icons of history
or forgotten pasts
within discursive configurations
spaces resonating with
meaning
history
passion
mortality
time –
the nexus of echoes
past and present:
the active sounds of history.

iv. Memory

What is it about that
sound
that makes me think of childhood?
Why does this image
transport me back to that thing I read
back when I was a student?
Which story about
my family
deserves to be recorded?
When did they decide
these are the things
that we should remember?

v. Contemplation

This silence
that is not silent
these echoes
these objects
installed and instilled with
their own preciousness
encourage one’s mind to ponder
and wander
across time: backwards and forwards
waves of sound, waves of history
upon which our thoughts might float.

vi. Engagement

We visit these places
not just to learn,
but to teach
not just to see,
but to be seen
not just to listen,
but to be heard.


Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Book Review: On The Odd Hours by Eric Liberge

On The Odd Hours coverSince 2005, the Louvre has been co-sponsoring the publication of a series of graphic novels set within the Louvre’s environs. Written and illustrated by multiple authors, these comics are self-contained rather than serialized stories, placing casts of characters inside the Louvre that act out stories asking fundamental questions about art, collection, audience, and museums (there’s a wonderful in-depth overview of the first four volumes in the series over at Comixology written by Columbia University’s Karen Green). Unsurprisingly, the novel that’s impressed me most in this series so far is Eric Liberge’s On The Odd Hours, a fantastical tale involving the power of sound to keep the Louvre’s objects “appeased.” It’s a thought-provoking take on the sonic experience of museums that has, pun intended, continued to resonate with me long after reading it. Continue reading

Mapping the Sounds of Collections: Listening to Museums and Archives

This essay was commissioned by Meri Kytö and originally published in the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology News Quarterly’s Research and Projects column (v.11 n.1, Jan-Mar 2014).

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