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.

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