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Turchin Project -
sounds of museums II
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1-week residence at Turchin Center for the (Visual) Arts, Appalachia State Univ., Boone, North Carolina
Turchin Project
a sobering glimpse of the museum experience - click on red letters (right) to hear sound files
In April 2006 Steve Piccolo and Gak Sato spent a week in Boone, North Carolina, doing the nine-to-five thing at a fantastic contemporary art center, the Turchin. The idea of the project was to introduce sounds in the museum, using a number of different simultaneous strategies. Click on greeny yellow image (right) to see the original Turchin webpage during event
The name of the Center already summed up part of the problem we wanted to study: a contemporary art center that defines itself as a center "for the visual arts".
What about this separation of sight and hearing? Does it resemble the age-old separation between reason and emotion, mind and body -- the curses of occidental civilization? That's part of what we wanted to find out.

Gak Sato sitting at our table in the middle of a big room in the museum. Director Hank Foreman and the staff have done an amazing job of preparing the setting and getting people involved. From downstairs we can hear the clanging of sculpture-instruments made by local artists and students. The room is filled with a nicely unpredictable selection of artworks that might trigger aural suggestions in the viewer. We spent all day every day in the museum, recording visitor comments, installing soundtracks that changed with visitor input from day to day.

Visitors could use this device to hear a 20-second message left by the last visitor and record another message for the next one. The device needs to be simplified, many people didn't get it without active explanation, believe it or not.

The Secret Room was one of the most successful sound collection strategies. People tend to be shy about recording their voices, but if they can do it in private they suddenly become very noisy indeed. In the public space of the museum comments tended to be succinct and serious. In the Secret Room, on the other hand, sound became an emotional outpouring of frustration, joy, childish inanity, aggression, madness and, well yes, even creativity.

Another pic showing the choice offered for self-recording in the Secret Room. The use of very primitive recording technology seemed to really work... no one had problems operating the equipment. The tradeoff: bad sound quality. This could be resolved with added budget... but the idea of the very old user interface, perhaps connected to more sophisticated hidden recording devices, is worth pursuing.

Gak still hard at work in the See Hear room. The sounds collected at the opening, in the Secret Room, during visits of school groups (led by Gayle Weitz and definitely the best subjects for our experiments), in the Feedback Loop device and in forays to spots suggested by visitors around the campus were all put on the museum website on a daily basis. All the collected sound materials were then used for sound installations in the painting galleries and for a final live performance that included the participation of some local talents we met during our stay (special guests Irmaly Bracken, Chris Bodall, Joel Lancaster).

Big pads of paper were placed on the wall so visitors could make charcoal drawings or doodles as reactions to the sounds they were hearing. The approach tended to be quite uniform, a kind of Cartesian or waveform representation.

A selection of sound files from the project is available here to the right: click on the red titles.

  opening 1

  opening 2

  found sounds/wisdom of herb alpert

  initial shock of the Secret Room - left recorder in left channel, right recorder in right, no processing or manipulation

  Secret Room 3, still in early stages

  things get even hairier in the Secret Room

  found sounds/tape found in street near museum, broadcast on radio, re-recorded by us with local comment. Next step: put this file on tape and leave it in street for someone else to find

  five more Secret Room files over the next two days

  Secret b

  secret c

  secret d

  secret e

  examples of feedback loop messages... basic communication

  gratifying feedback

  elevator jack, a traditional tall tale

  welcome feedback

  Did she say what I think she said? Voices and bells beyond the room that don't exist? The messages are starting to sound like ghosts (revenants)

  Just dial 919-TROUBLE

  survey of bumper stickers in museum parking lot

  not responsible for feedback content

  20 sec feedback - clarity is everything

  20 sec - ideas are important

  feedback - u hv the right to remain silent

  work by work - sounds people think correspond to artworks, listeners are asked to identify the works. First in set of nine.









  back in Secret Room on Thursday after full moon

  Most visitors opt for Secret Room. Not this one.

  Only one person has used all 20 seconds. Not this one.

  more sounds linked to artworks, this time with words (series)




  verbalvisit5 - not "that" noodles

  verbalvisit6 - one deep thinker makes it all worthwhile - thanks, kid!

  verbalvisit7 - the art of confusion


  the Secret Room strikes again -- the two cassettes are mounted simultaneous left-right on all the Secret trax

  Secret Room on Good Friday - there are all most as many churches as there are people in this neck of the woods

  20-sec feedback from lonely visitors

  another lonely voice