Kinokophonography Night at the Library for the Performing Arts: Hearing is Believing
by Katrina Dixon, Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound at the New York Public Library for the Performing ArtsMarch 14, 2014
There is something very unique about a listening program. It is not always typical to sit and listen without explanation or visual stimulation. On the evening of February 6th, about 50 people gathered in Bruno Walter Auditorium for New York's first Kinokophonography* Night here at LPA, where we asked the audience to do just that: sit and listen.
The first half of the program was curated on the theme of Community. I was happy to begin with two pieces from the Library's Ken Dewey Collection. I chose a radio collage made during the 1965 NYC blackout that ranged from newscasts to interviews with people stranded at Grand Central, and an excerpt from a 1964 Happening—which was the subject of Staffon Olzen's 1965 documentary HAPPENING AT THE ARCTIC CIRCLE—that included Dewey instructing participants and performance of the happening itself.
Throughout Kinokophonography Night, each sound is played before it is described. This method encourages individual associative aural memory before opening the sound up for discussion—sometimes begging for audience ideas about what they just heard—sometimes offering a description that enhanced a sound beyond the initial meaning of hearing the sound itself. I loved looking out at the audience during each sound piece and seeing closed eyes; I loved seeing the intent, curious faces of listeners trying to make sense of the sounds as they were played.
One example of a sound becoming more important to me after hearing its explanation was with Oranka Morales' Community of Mothers. The sound itself was of a baby breathing and suckling. Morales explains in her description that when her daughter was born she had experienced trouble with low milk supply, which led to a new nursing system reliant upon donated milk. She continues, "For me, this sound is the sound of the community of mothers coming together to provide support and allowing me to bond with my newborn baby."
Highlights of the Community portion also included the familiar sounds of Andy Theodorou's Commuter Community, which offered a glimpse into his commute to and from work (SEPTA Train to NJ Transit Train to lunch to NJ Transit Train to SEPTA Train) and sounds of Theodorou's lunch break taken in the expansive Lincoln Center Atrium. A more exotic recording had some listeners wondering if the sounds (chanting/singing, cymbals, harmonium) had come from India or someplace in the Middle East. As it turns out, Brian L. Frye's Fire Ceremony was made during a Puja ritual that his uncle Sundar has led for many years at Schweibenalp in Switzerland. This particular recording captures the communal sounds of each participant’s spiritual experiences filtered via the Puja ritual. I also particularly enjoyed Radio Arts—Jim Backhouse and Magz Hall’s Voice Like a Foghorn in which we got to enjoy over 40 different Medway people lending their voices to a ship’s broken foghorn.
The second half of the program was curated from open call submissions. It was such a pleasure to finally hear Jez Riley French’s Teleferica recording after reading his previous guest blog about the process of placing contact microphones on teleferica wires used to haul wood from the hills into the village of Topolo in Italy. Initial listening was abstract and gave me a feeling as though I were listening to something from the inside. When I found out it was the contact mic piece that French had written about, I thought about it for a long while later that night – how each leaf or bug or bit of dust grazing the wires became a full, present sound, and how we otherwise simply would never notice.
Other highlights of the open call portion of the event included Coryn Smethurst’s Woman Dog Barking which was created in Yorkshire. Smethurst had been out fighting midges in mosquito nets, desperate to capture perfect audio of nocturnal birds, when he picked up a strange distortion. The track itself includes the normal sound of a woman speaking and sometimes yelling accompanied by a strange, almost slowed, guttural monster noise that no one could name. Something about the placement of the equipment and the overall circumstances morphed the sound of the woman’s dogs into the guttural monster noises. And it was Sarah Scarr’s Beklaga recording that moved me in an unexpected way. She made the recording over three days in Danderyd, Sweden, and included her mother telling an anecdote about her grandmother’s age (the recording began at the grandmother’s funeral), and sounds of a circus filtering in to the house through an open window, followed by the sounds of looking through what we find out later are her mother’s childhood belongings. One of her mother’s belongings was a music box that Scarr captured beautifully. Something about the bright, metal song made me want to burst into tears. I loved the way it resonated in me. I could have listened to a loop of the music box for the rest of night!
You are invited to join us here at the Library for the Performing Arts for a Kinokophone Recording Workshop on Thursday, May 15th at 6 p.m. in the 3rd Floor Screening Room. We will explore interesting field recordings from the Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound, and Kinokophone will teach proper methods for creating field recordings.
For anyone who missed the February listening, we are planning to listen and share another evening of Kinokophonography in the fall right here at LPA. Ideally, this fall program will include creations made by newly trained workshop recordists, offering the opportunity for the Library community to share their pieces alongside internationally renowned sound artists.
We look forward to engaging New York in sounds of our world, and exploring just what kind of a difference sound can make.
*Kinokophonography is made possible in part with public funds from the Manhattan Community Arts Fund, supported by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and administered by Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. LMCC.net