Tag Archives: active sounds of history

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

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.

Film Review: Museum Hours

Museum Hours (2012)
106 minutes
directed by Jem Cohen

Museum Hours, Jem Cohen’s cinematic meditation on life, death, and art has a somewhat unexpected focus: sound. I finally got the chance to see this film almost a year after its initial release, and while I was expecting impressive visual statements (considering the film was shot primarily inside Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum), I was pleasantly surprised by its many fascinating sonic moments as well. 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

Listening to the Active Sounds of History: field recording and museums

This essay was commissioned by Cheryl Tipp, curator of sound at the British Library. Illustrated with photographs and sound clips, it was originally published 30 August 2013 on the British Library’s Sound and Vision blog. I’m reproducing it here with a few minor edits I should have caught the first time around.

Memory is at the heart of much human activity. Memory drives us to collect, to record, to create documents –”information or evidence that serves as an official record” – that we then spend a lot of time and effort preserving. Some of these documents are strictly personal and kept as family heirlooms. Others end up being judged by someone else as having a broader significance, and end up being preserved in places like museums and libraries in order that they be made accessible to a wider audience. There are countless institutions around the world whose mission statements may not explicitly express it, but which are essentially dedicated to honoring the human desire to remember. Continue reading

Untitled 10

The Active
Sounds
of History:

whispering

the stabilizing hum of an HVAC system
camera phone synthesized shutter sounds
“no flash photography, please”

whispering

the piercing cry of a bored and hungry child
footsteps squeaking on a polished stone floor
cryptic words and numbers wrapped in walkie-talkie crackle

whispering

the hissing, whining, and clicking of a heavy door
stifling a cough
“no touching”

a hush

then, whispering


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