Sunday, July 31, 2005

sonic matryoshkii

UPDATE!! thanks to my sister barb for the grammatical correction. apparently, the plural of 'matryoshka,' which used to be the word in the title to this post, is actually 'matryoshkii.' what would we do without sisters?!!!

a few weeks ago while in nyc i had the good fortune to catch an audio installation/tour in central park - janet cardiff's her long black hair, which was originally produced and installed during the summer of 2004, but has luckily been brought back for a few months this year.

during the tour you carry around a small bag containing a cd player, headphones and five numbered photographs.
for 35 minutes you're instructed in every action by a narrator, including when to pull out each photograph, which direction to take when at a fork in the path, when to stop along the way, and you're even asked to perform a task from time to time. i don't want to give away too much about the content of her long black hair, instead i'll just encourage you to somehow find yourself in nyc before september 11 and treat yourself to the experience. but there's one idea maybe worth sharing...

after thinking a lot about the tour, i realized that participating was like being inside the very core of a set of nesting dolls, you know those blob-ishly shaped hollow wooden figures that come apart in the middle, (only to reveal a smaller, identical figure inside, with a smaller, identical figure inside, and so on...) traditionally depicting russian peasant women and girls, hand-painted with complex floral decoration (also known as 'matryoshkii').

here's how:
the smallest doll in this particular set tells my story, of being there that day, and the surrounding circumstance. the next largest doll explains cardiff's efforts in producing the audio tour (hear more about this), the next in line includes the story that begins with the first words of the tour, the next doll contains the sub-stories within the main story, and the largest doll points to the stories unfolding in real time, all over the park and in every direction (like the one about the homeless woman sleeping on one of the benches i was told to sit on) as you walk through so thoroughly ensconsed in the tale being told in your ears. but this set of matryoshkii has been completely assembled - all of the stories are happening simulatenously, layered into one dense episode, perhaps waiting to be taken apart and deciphered individually later.

the production of her long black hair is excellent. it's meticuolously recorded, narrated, timed and conceived. the story is...gradual, and obscure at times, and melancholy in a way that's hard to pin down. the amount of control possessed by the storyteller is phenomenal - her voice becomes your lifeline to progressing, moving, existing even for those 35 minutes that you're inside her voice, inside your own head.

it's not so often that giving yourself over to instruction and direction in this way is so deeply satisfying...
nor lastingly reflection-worthy. ironically, there was something ultimately liberating in such a precise and delineated experience. well anyway, that was my impression. if you've taken the tour, or are able to in the next couple months, i'd love to know yours...

Thursday, July 28, 2005


a comment offered in response to the previous 'big shed' post planted an idea in my head, and got me thinking about how to _spell_ sounds. some, i've concluded, are simply unspellable, at least using the alphabet i've grown up with.

last year i made an audio piece about slide projectors and wanted to title it with the sound of a slide dropping into place for projection, just as the carousel advances.
..but i couldn't figure out how to spell this. in my head, it came out kuh-chunk, but if you read that out loud (which i hope you've just done) i think you'll agree that you didn't sound anything like a slide projector. maybe if there was an umlaut or something, over the second u...

in the end, the piece was (and still is) named "autofocus," (actually the sound of my projector's autofocus is a quiet, sturdy and comforting one, and is not too hard to decipher somewhat reasonably in english: whiirrrhhrrrrh) which is ok, but of course now that i'm thinking about it again, i'm wondering how one _could_ spell the projector sound. or the sound of the dog's nails scraping on the floor every time he gets up from resting. or the sound a peeler makes, when stripping a carrot. or the sound of fingers on a keyboard, in the earliest morning hours...

p.s. relevant, but just barely: remember these?

Monday, July 25, 2005

the best sounding tool in the shed...

as noted at the very beginning of this blog, there isn't much (read: any) audio to be found on it. yet. perhaps this will change one day. in the meantime there are many many many blogs out there that actually _do_ post / podcast audio. one that's wholly dedicated to this, and this alone is big shed, presented by the indiefeed project. if you've been hearing all about That Podcasting Phenomenon but haven't yet taken the plunge, here's a perfect starting point. directions within.

full disclosure - big shed's founder, the generous and keenly audio-minded shea shackleford, invited me to contribute near the beginning of the project, and i was very honored to do so. so if you've always wanted to hear a seventeen minute soundscape about public parks in chicago / audio homage to ice cream trucks, now's your chance.

p.s. the subject of this post, though simply meant to capture attention/interest while referring somewhat obtusely to the content within does in fact beg the question: what might be the best sounding tool in the shed??

Saturday, July 23, 2005

better than sirens

so it's early for a saturday night by some indicators, around 11 pm, but it seems a little bit late for the neighborhood kids to be out and about, counting at the tops of their lungs. this was the sound that greeted me as i climbed the back stairs at the end of a long day -- a chorus of voices, "twenty THREE one thousand. twenty FOUR one thousand. twenty FIVE one thousand..."

but the alley between my home and their sidewalk playground was playing tricks, and so the count seemed to be coming from many directions at once, sort of echo-y, hard to pin down or find with my ears. this called for further investigation, so thirston (dog) and i hit the trail for our nightly walk around the block.

sure enough, we walked into a small swarm of girl counters, barefoot, sweaty, and all jazzed up about the game they were in the middle of playing. "hide and seek?" i asked, hoping to demonstrate my vast knowledge of outdoor, late-night, summertime game options.

"nope," melissa (age 11) explained, "cops and roberts. and the boys are the cops and the girls are the roberts. the cops have to chase the roberts and then we switch and the roberts get the cops."

practically on cue three cops surfaced noisily from around some bushes and the chase began with six shrieking girls taking off down the sidewalk. what these roberts lacked in stealth, they more than made up for in squeal. thirston and i finished our walk, monitoring the game's progress from the other side of the block while also keeping our ears open for a late-night ice cream truck circulating the neighborhood with a 'last call for cones and cups.'

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

competitive model horse collecting

yes, it exists (all around you, i promise) and yes i got a bit swept up in learning all about it. this resulted in the making of a twenty minute audio piece eventually called "are there any more rare, plastic ponies?" which has been played on the radio (june 19) but will also be presented, live (the way i always imagined it should be shared), on july 29 around 8 pm at mess hall, in rogers park, as part of the open source/open ear two-week sound extravaganza happening there. a couple of my other audio pieces will also be "screened," TRT - 'bout fifty minutes.

listen to 'are there any more rare, plastic ponies?'


it's true that my days are already pretty much all about listening, but i've been wanting, for awhile, to do something on a smaller and more personal scale, and was recently inspired to finally get busy with it.

hence: LISSENUP - a semi-regular (every third sundayish) listening thingee where you'll find a variety of radio/audio to listen to, some discussion, snacks and the company of good people.

LISSENUPone is happening july 24 from 7 - 10 pm in logan square.

send an email ( for directions if you're interested in coming, or if you'd just like to receive announcements about future LISSENUPs.

a few details for the curious:

- LISSENUP is free

- some snacks will be provided, by all means bring some to share as well. snack-lucks are beautiful things...

- byob, if you'd like to enhance your listening experience in such a way

- there will be a cat and dog present and roaming, so if you're deathly allergic, you may want to keep this in mind.

on the agenda for the evening:
stories about a pirate radio station and a darth vader impersonator.

a (sort of) introduction

finally, there's time (at least i'm telling myself so) to build a place to think, write and share information about all things sound/audio/ radio/music that are circulating around my brain and ringing in my ears most days.

welcome to lissenup - not just a collection of words about sounds, but a semi-regular listening series in chicago, and a source for finding out about other listening happenings out in the world.

i know, it's silly. not even ironic, but silly - a text-drenched blog with occasional images about audio. well...for now that's enough, maybe there'll be sounds one day.