we listen, how we remember

Site-specific performance and sound installation, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, MD, 2016

we listen, how we remember was commissioned by the Walters Art Museum for their public performance series, ART/SOUND/NOW. Artists were asked to choose a gallery in the museum and create a performance that activated different ways of experiencing the art. we listen, how we remember was an invitation to the audience to consider the sonic history of art and artifacts in the Migration Art, Byzantine, and Pre-Medieval art galleries. The Migration Art period was a turbulent 700-year time in European history after the fall of the first Roman Empire. I was inspired by the fact that this art was born of migration and movement. The objects, by necessity, were portable and utilitarian and the visual themes expressed the movement of people, culture, ideas, and religion.

In the design of these objects you can see the aesthetic influences of different groups who likely clashed. Paganism crossing with Christianity as Germanic tribes interacted with Celts. Objects made with rare jewels and metals influenced by tribes that were exposed to Asian regions through movement in Eastern Europe. The objects also held, within their materials, the history of power, violence, and erasure; of people whose cultural identities were absorbed and altered.

A short reading and performance opened the work, where I used objects with attached transducers to naturally “filter” sound using rocks, objects, and other materials. Afterwards, the audience was invited to move through the galleries and sound installation. Sounds were placed throughout the gallery’s rooms, emanating from objects positioned on the floor, hidden speakers placed under benches, and larger speakers placed out of sight, and included recordings of the museum’s HVAC and ambient sounds, shortwave radio samples, and sine tones. These materials enabled perception of sound to shift as the audience moved through the rooms. I chose frequencies that activated resonant frequencies in the objects, produced psychoacoustic beating patterns, and tuned one set of sounds to establish tritones (diminished fifths) or what during the Renaissance was referred to as the “Devil’s Interval” for is dissonant character.

we listen, how we remember imagines art objects and artifacts as lively and noisy with complex, layered histories. The work proposes that sound’s physical immediacy can provide new ways of understanding the past.