Posts archived in Artworks


Phoenix neighbors of Indians right fielder Shin-Soo Choo hold a banner as he bats. The first “O” in “Choo” is a symbol from the Korean flag, the second is the Cleveland mascot.

No sentiment describes spring training better than optimism; everyone imagines their team could be competitive, or at least not depressing to follow.

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Today is the debut of Bangkok is Ringing, a monthly podcast I’m producing for the online magazine Triple Canopy. Check it!


Image by Seth Denizen

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Max Neuhaus: Times Square, Time Piece Beacon
Lynne Cooke, Karen Kelly, and Barbara Schröder, editors
Dia Art Foundation, 2009
140 pps., $35 ($21.75 on Abe Books)

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Journalist/critic Virginia Heffernan wrote a thoughtful summary essay in last weekend’s New York Times Magazine about the 2010 Academy Award nominees for best sound-design.

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Gossip: I have an artwork premiering at next month’s Ncounters conference at the University of Alberta.

The piece is titled “This is Sound,” and it is an 11-minute lecture/journey about the effects of sound on the human body. It was produced, loosely, in the style of NOVA.

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A couple summers ago, we went to a water park in Saigon, Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City). The bus ride home featured: honking, talking, air brakes, and a cover of Patsy Cline’s biggest single.

This is an installation called “Sonolevitation” by the artists Dmitry Gelfand and Evelina Domnitch. Objects – here, little triangles of gold leaf – are trapped in negative pressure zones created by standing waves of sound. The symmetry of the leaves as they rotate is lovely.

Gelfand and Domnitch are neo-Mr. Wizards, exploiting simple-strange physical phenomena in artwork that is, essentially, about how weird and vast the universe is. (Be sure to check out some of their other stuff as well.)

G+D describe Sonolevitation as a research project about the behavior of objects in microgravity, where motion is frictionless. But what Sonolevitation most effectively exploits (and demonstrates) are our biases about matter here on Earth. If the piece used the airflow from two fans to hold the objects in place, it would be much less striking. We’re used to the idea that streams of ventilated air exert physical pressure. Not so with sound. Sonolevitation “wows” us because we imagine sound as propagating in an autonomous and indescribable channel – a channel that isn’t quite physical. There is, then, a cognitive dissonance in watching it exert a visible force.

Sonolevitation will be at festivals in Great Britain and France this March.

Snow, Philadelphia, 12 19 09

Snow, Philadelphia, 12 19 09

Sixteen inches of snow this weekend. The present artwork is to be filed under “horror.” It was recorded in the morning. The sensibility is kind of an urban interpolation to The Thing.

In it, I walk around the block, getting chased by wind chimes. FYI, my shoes are the rhythm section.

Chris DeLaurenti, field recording specialist and member of the Phonographer’s Union, was on KUOW‘s “Weekday” program yesterday to discuss many of the most important issues around the study of sound. This post is a listening guide to the discussion, and serves also as a pretty decent primer for understanding how and why sound is useful as a type of analytic material.

“Sound Studies,” while increasingly common in the academy, still lacks basic definitions. This post is part of an ongoing effort to provide clear, descriptive expositions of what the study of sound encompasses – as an art form, as a humanistic science, and as a general philosophy.

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Speaking of film, as we have been, Melena Ryzik interviewed Clint Eastwood’s Academy Award-winning sound designer Alan Robert Murray yesterday.

The pursuit of authenticity apparently knows no bounds. Says Murray:

We went and recorded a lot in South Africa and tried to be accurate to the background. My recorder went to the shantytowns. We found circa 1990 phones that we believed would be in Mandela’s office. We went to Robben Island — the jail door you hear is actually Mandela’s cell door. We got to record in his cell, which is kind of eerie.

and …

In South Africa, we recruited 25 guys, professional players that they rounded up in Cape Town, and we had a professional rugby coach there. We got them together and we set them 25-30 yards apart and said, O.K., you guys run into each other as hard as you can. And I mean, it was just brutal what we got back.

Ryzik professes honestly that sound design is a mystery category, Academy-wise, that it’s “one of those categories that make people lose their Oscar pool.” Murray, like most people who deal with sound professionally, is obviously used to the association of invisibility with nonexistence that accounts for such a lack of awareness. (He starts the interview by saying “thanks for noticing. A lot of people just think the sound happens when they shoot the movie.”)

Coming up: a sound studies primer

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