Saturday, May 26, 2007

Junkshop Coyote

Junkshop Coyote

Junkshop Coyote is Mitch Hilton, from Indianapolis, Indiana. He runs a net label called Hallo Excentrico! and produces elecronica/collage, citing Aphex Twin and V/Vm as major influences.

The project name is a reference to Wile E. Coyote, a cartoon character he's identified with, and the fact that he loves to frequent (and subsequently decorate his home with the items he finds at) junk shops. As a collage artist, I can identify with that, at least a little...

As of this writing, there are two Junkshop Coyote releases, both available on his net label. The first is titled Selected I-Am-Bent Works, Volume One. The second is an album of V/Vm remixes, from a year-long project in which V/Vm encouraged artists to remix the tracks he uploaded daily, throughout 2006, at his website. Junkshop Coyote took him up on that and the resulting tracks make up an album titled, Red Carpet Narcissism, Volume One. Check them out at Hallo Excentrico!

Without further ado, here's the SAR Q&A with Junkshop Coyote...


*Name: Junkshop Coyote

*Are there any additional names used to describe this project: No, but I also do mix sets and songwriter-oriented stuff as Mitch Wolf.

*Do you use a pseudonym? Yes, my real name is Mitchell (Mitch) Kent Hilton.

*Tape manipulations, digital deconstructions or turntable creations: At one time or another, I've used all three. Right now, I use the computer almost exclusively though. I've been using GoldWave for the last few years, a somewhat primitive wave editor in that there are no sequencing or multi-tracking capabilities - it's all just sound-on-sound, cutting and pasting one layer at a time, using only my ears and occasionally a calculator to figure out how to put things together.

*Another genre descriptor: Sometimes I jokingly call what I do "Golden Shower Economics."

*Why you use this descriptor: Well, it's my own personal parody of the Reagan-era phrase "trickle-down economics." I like making art out of found or discarded things - creating things that hopefully have value out of materials that have little or no value in and of themselves. It's my little way of contributing to the economy, I guess. So - you can just take a leak, or create new value by giving someone a thrill while you're at it. ;)

*Location: I live in Indianapolis, IN with my domestic partner and two cats.

*Original Location: I'm originally from Terre Haute, IN.

*What is your creative/artistic background: I took piano lessons as a kid; that's about it for formal training. I'm self-taught on voice, bass, guitar and drums, and I used to be in a couple of rock bands, but there was always this body of stuff I did on the side where I just kind of played around with sound. When I got to be about 30, I realized that rock had lost its flavor for me, and I had to get into something new if I was going to keep making music. That's when I discovered Aphex Twin, and "playing with sound" became the main part of what I do.

*History: I started making stuff I considered worth keeping when I was 18.

*Born: May 25, 1967 in Terre Haute, IN.

*Motivations: I knew I wanted to be a musician when I saw Elvis on TV, at the age of 5. For a long time, I wanted to be famous and adored, and all that stuff, but I've let go of that. Now I do it because I want to contribute something spiritual to the material world.

*Philosophy: I try not to think about it too much and just let it happen. I think a true artist's job is to open up a channel to the divine.

*How would you like to be remembered: I'd like to be remembered as a person who encouraged other people's creativity by letting his own out.

*Web address: I have a small personal site at There you will find links to all the other pertinent sites, like my blog on LiveJournal, and my netlabel, Hallo Excentrico!

Episode 173, Some Assembly Required

Episode 173, Some Assembly Required

01 Aggro1 – “Milkshake Waste”
02 Freddy Fresh – “I'm Not Jokin'”
03 David Shea/DJ Grazhoppa – “Old Note 24/7”
04 Girl Talk – “Too Deep”
05 Splatt – “The 60's were so beautiful, man”
06 DJ Babu – “Suckas (Sucka DJ Dis)”
07 DJ BC – “Mad World Forever”
08 Steve Dirkx – “The world is a carousel”
09 rachMiel – “Andy Griffith”
10 Wayne Butane – “Untitled (Backwash segment)”
11 The Bots – “Bushwack”
12 Team 9 - “Back to the End”
13 The Tape-beatles – “The ads become the news”
14 Junkshop Coyote – “Church Across the Tracks (VVm remix)”
15 Negativland – “New Is Old”
16 Emergency Broadcast Network – “Untitled”
17 J Boogie's Dubtronic Science – “Ritual of the Nile”
18 Whimsical Will – “A trip to the chocolate factory”
19 Arty Fufkin – “Primal Jeans”

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Thursday, May 17, 2007



B'O'K is "The Xtina of BioAnarchist Audio MemeCore." I can't claim to know what that means exactly, but there isn't a lot we can say for sure about this mysterious project. Is B'O'K from Australia? Does B'O'K stand for Buttress O'Kneel? Noone knows for sure. Not really. A lot of energy has been put into concealing even the finer points of the artist's identity, but I can tell you a bit about the work...

It's great! And it's all over the place. One track is a heavily cut-up political speech, another is a kind of glitch-pop. Sometimes we're in mashup territory and then all of a sudden it's a collage of startup sounds appropriated from the artist's personal computer. Hard to pin down, but most often compelling, the work is usually highly reliant upon samples - so of course we'll find time for B'O'K here on Some Assembly Required.

B'O'K's myspace page cites influences such as "the propaganda presented as "fact" in the corporatised mainstream media / the mindcontrol jingles presented as "entertainment" by the mainstream musick Industry / the madness of my surroundings (and) the hypocrisies displayed by traditional power-structures," which gives you an idea of the political nature of much of her work. Splendid Magazine calls her "a media guerilla, working from the underground trenches and subverting copyrights while creating politically charged audio collages from pop music and news footage... She is People Like Us or Negativland with a world conscience."

And she describes herself as "a collection of samples, organised by my biological sampler, with no independent existence - and so are you." Extremely well put. Without further ado, here's the SAR Q&A with Buttress O'Kneel...

*Name: B’O’K

*Are there any additional names used to describe this project: Buttress O’Kneel

*Do you use a pseudonym? Yes! When yr making illegal and/or anti-governmental music, it's probably best to keep under the radar.

*Members: Buttress O'Kneel. I'm not a band, just a person.

*Tape manipulations, digital deconstructions or turntable creations: Mostly digital. Although, a decade ago, it was all tape work - now it's pretty much all done on the computer. It just seems the fastest way to create high quality pieces.

*Another genre descriptor: Well, musically, I've coined the word "compop" (as in "composted music" - audiomulch that keeps getting remixed into itself to fertilize the brain) to refer to most of my non-political musical pieces. I use "hyperpop" for some of my cut-up multi- layered pop stuff, "memecore" for the bastardised breakcore pop-destruction, "megabastard" for my megamixed-multi-bastard-pop music, while "docubreaks" and "audiodocumentaries" are the terms I most often use for my more overtly political stuff. But, as I am fully aware that all humyn words are fabrications superimposed on the "real,” I try to come up with as many new terms as I can. New words = new brain paths = mind-freedom from the reptilian- grey agenda. My little intro-phrase on my myspace page at the moment calls me the "p!nk of hard hyperpop memecore docubreaks"... So there you go.

*Location: Australia. America's lil geek brother who'll do anything to get big bro on-side.

*What is your creative/artistic background: Sampling. With media-sampling, instruments are obsolete. If you hate your tv, make your own. If pop is trying to destroy your mind with jingles, use those jingles to create art. My art is a battle. My music is a weapon. Is this the kind of answer yr after? My background is that I've been doing it for ages.

*History: I started doing tape stuff a decade ago... forever ago!

*Born: Let's just say my physical being was born in the mid seventies, and my creative being was born about ten years ago.

*Motivations/Philosophy: Again, it's the necessity of it all. Basically, sampling IS existence. We ARE BIOLOGICAL SAMPLERS. When a child learns a word, it is sampling the word (sound/image/etc) into its biosampler, for use later on: When we speak, we are recontextualising old samples. Creativity of any sort is sampling: When Michaelangelo painted, he wasn't inventing the brush, or the paint, or the idea of applying chemicals to a surface to alter that surface's perceptual-colour to the humyn brain: He was just using all that had come before to rehash in a new way. All culture is sampling! I'm probably ranting here, but it seems so clear to me, and so unmentioned by anyone else. LIFE IS RE-USE! THOUGHT IS SAMPLING! There, I've said it again. So, that said, I do what I do because it's all anyone can do. But the BATTLE aspect of what I do is a choice. Basically, when we interact with the greater world, we make a choice: Do I accept what is there already, or do I use it to make something else? When a song has been designed to be “catchy,” or "popular" (as all "pop" music is), it has been designed to take control of your brain! To brainwash you! To get stuck in your mind and repeat itself again and again - this is what the notion of "catchy" is! It uses psychology and trend-analysis and basic brain-washing techniques to lodge itself in your brain and LIVE there. So, do I accept this? Or do I use this and try to free my neurones? I can't help but choose the recontextualising path of freedom. This is a battle of the mind, and it's a battle I'm determined to win.

*How would you like to be remembered: I don't think I will be remembered! In the geological scale of things, when this planet has been eaten by the expanding sun, and humyns (as they currently exist) no longer inhabit the solar system, I doubt ANY of us will be remembered. But, as far as short-scale humyn memory goes, I'd like to be remembered as someone who was on the side of ACTUAL freedom, a bio-anarchist, post-feminist, grrlcore electroactivist who did her best not to succumb to the reptiles.

*Web address:

Episode 172, Some Assembly Required

Episode 172, Some Assembly Required

01 DJ Shadow – “Mashin' on the Motorway”
02 B'O'K – “Need A Soldier”
03 Apollo Zero – “Like Jesus or Not”
04 Girl Talk – “Hold Up”
05 DJ Haste – “Styles To Kiss”
06 The Bran Flakes - “Pure Love”
07 Kurtis Rush – “George gets his freak on”
08 Lecture On Nothing – “Potato”
09 The Button - “For the lord”
10 United States of Audio – “Mini Mix”
11 John Oswald – “Untitled (Funky X segment)”
12 Party Ben – “New Donaa (Bizarre Light Triangle)”
13 People Like Us – “Tremble Peady”
14 Smash-Up Derby – “God Save Madonna”

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Altered Esthetics

No new Q&A this week, but check out last week's feature on Orchid Spangiafora, and click HERE to read the SAR Q&A with Ralph Johnson, of Public Works (posted 9/06), who I also recorded a phone interview with and featured in this week's podcast (episode 171). So, be sure to check out this week's brand new feature on Public Works!

"Some Assembly Required"

I attended the opening for Altered Esthetic's most recent show, Art For Other Senses, last weekend where I had the name of the radio program printed out in braille (above). Now that I think of it, it's a little ridiculous to post an image of a title printed in braille, but there it is... Art For Other Senses runs through May 24, here in Minneapolis, at 1224 Quincy Street, in Northeast Minneapolis. Check out their website for more information...

Stay tuned for next week's SAR Q&A with B'O'K!

Thanks for listening,
Jon Nelson

Episode 171, Some Assembly Required

Episode 171, Some Assembly Required
(featuring an interview with Public Works)

01 Public Works – “Noise”
02 Creature Comforts – “Alone Together”
03 The Tape-beatles – “Do you think it’s an accident?”
04 The Tape-beatles – “Home problems”
05 Public Works – “Substance”
06 Public Works – “Vesicle”
07 Public Works – “Numbers (Forevermore)”
08 Public Works – “Numbers (2)”
09 Public Works – “Follow me”

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Orchid Spangiafora

Orchid Spangiafora

Orchid Spangiafora is Massachuset's Robert Carey. I've been hearing about Orchid Spangiafora for years. Lots of folks from the Twin Cities have told me about the project, based on their assumption that he was from around here, but although Flee Past's Ape Elf was released on a Minneapolis record label (Twin Tone), I don't believe he's ever lived here. I once saw an actual copy of the record at Roadrunner Records (I think they said they were going to try and sell it online). It's really a rare find. Steve Fisk lists Orchid Spangiafora as an influence. He talked a little bit about the project with me, when I interviewed him recently. Lots of people have been influenced by this record, which was released in October of 1979.

Most of the collages on Flee Past's Ape Elf were produced in 1974, while Carey was in school at Hampshire College, in Massachusets. He was taking an electronic music class with Randall McClellan, and working closely with the teaching assistant, John Kilgore, and his advisor, Jim McElwaine. There are a variety of production techniques at work on this album, but of course my favorites are the ones utilizing so many razor cuts that "the back of the tape was pretty much solid white with splicing tape." Check out this page at the Orchid Spangiafora website for a detailed history of the project.

Without further ado, here's the SAR Q&A with Orchid Spangianfora...

*Name: Orchid Spangiafora

*Are there any additional names used to describe this project: My wife occasionally contributes sound collages, and generally these are attributed to "Heart Of Glue" which was originally the title of a book of paper collages that we never published.

*Tape manipulations, digital deconstructions or turntable creations: Well, most of this stuff was done between 1972 and 1977, and the only technology available was reel-to-reel tape, razorblades, and splicing tape. So, it kind of necessarily falls into the tape manipulations category. The back of the tape was frequently solid white with splicing tape. I did some stuff with an Arp 2500 synthesizer, but very little of that is on the record. About 8 years ago I had a little burst of activity using Cool Edit Pro to do digital sound collages of a very similar nature to the earlier tape pieces. They can be found on a CD-R usually called No Cones Out and probably available from Byron Coley at, and another called 2/3 of a Trivet, which I think is not available from him anymore. The stuff from Trivet may or may not be on the other CD-R, but to find out I would have to go down to the basement. I don't want to go.

*Is there a story behind your name? I was visting Jim McElwaine at his house over by UMass, and a friend of his, Lew Spratlan, who was a professor of music at Amherst came over for the evening. Lew and Jim knew each other, I believe, from the Yale school of music where Jim got his masters degree. At any rate, we were hanging out listening to the tapes when Lew turned to Jim and said, "You know? We should apply to Yale under an assumed name, say ‘Orchid Spangiafora’ and send these tapes as the example of the applicant's composition work. We can each write recommendations and have X and Y write them also. What do you think?" I didn't know what he was talking about. Turned out he was joking with Jim. Basically, the four people he was referring to (himself, Jim, and X and Y who I no longer remember) all had graduated from Yale Music and gone on to get reasonably prestigious jobs in various music departments at other schools. The guy who would review the application was a very straight classical musician who was a friend of theirs and they knew that he would have no idea what to make of the "Orchid" tapes. But they also knew that he couldn't turn down the recommendations of these four alumni. At any rate, as far as I know, "Orchid Spangiafora" was just a name that Lew pulled out of the air while making this joke, but Jim and I started using it when talking about the tapes and it stuck, so I used it for the album.

*Location: I am from New York City, although it has been a while since I lived there. Most of the work was done at Hampshire up in Amherst, Massachusetts. Chris Osgood, of the Suicide Commandos, was my roommate at Hampshire and he helped me put out a 7" of three of the loop pieces. Byron Coley was also at Hampshire in the same period and his voice can be heard in Trapped Heir Suite Part 2, tormenting a friend, Ed Benfey. Shortly after the release of the 7 inch, Chris was instrumental in getting Flee Past's Ape Elf released on Twin/Tone in MPLS. Chris's voice appears all over the piece called Mondo Stupid. Flea Past's Ape Elf was the title of a nonexistent palindromic novel proposed by Jim McElwaine, music professor when I was at Hampshire - currently at Purchase - and someone else. We went through a palindrome period.

*History: There were the two flurries of activity, in the early 1970s and the late 1990s. I just recently started playing around with a sound editor on the Macintosh so you may hear something more from me later this year. Or not. Oh, there was also something I did when I was living in Philadelphia in the 80s that got released on Innova on Sonic Circuits V. That was done in around 1987 using really cheap technology - an old Akai home reel-to-reel, a cassette recorder, and an inexpensive sampling keyboard.

*Born: 1954, NYC

*Motivations: I have made collages since I was a child. I think this activity is related to what I have done with sound. I like taking things apart and putting them back together wrong. I have also continued to make paper collages, and for the past couple of years I have been playing with Photoshop.

*Philosophy: Be careful. Have fun every day. No, wait. That's Chris Osgood's. I don't have a philosophy. Maybe "take things apart and put them back together wrong."

*How would you like to be remembered: I am pleased to see references to my work on the Internet by people who see it as a precursor to the sampling stuff that took off a couple decades later. On the other hand, I don't really think it was an influence on that because so few people heard it. Sampling was just something that took off because of the general availability of a new and interesting technology. Nonetheless, it is still nice to hear people saying you were ahead of your time. Or maybe as the guy who wrote "Be Careful" on the wall of the bathroom of CBGBs back when it didn't have any graffiti on it. Not necessarily as the guy who threw spaghetti on the Dead Boys at CBGB.

*Web address:

Episode 170, Some Assembly Required

Episode 170, Some Assembly Required

01 Mr. Dibbs – “Outreach 5”
02 Orchid Spangiafora – “The persistence of F.M.”
03 Cheekyboys – “Get Back Sledgehammer”
04 Avalanches - “Tonight”
05 Forty One – “Hip Hip Hop”
06 DJ Zebra – “Upside down tonight”
07 Wobbly – “Anger”
08 The Tape-beatles – “Desire”
09 DJ Marvel – “Turntable Menace”
10 Lecture On Nothing – “The Custom Apocalypse”
11 Pop Chop – “Wonder Fill”
12 Wax Audio – “Unparalleled Danger”
13 Jeffrey Sconce – “Goofy And The Feds”
14 Steinski – “Collage #9”
15 Activist Queer Folk – “Mixed Messages”
16 Go Home Productions – “Notorious Trick”

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Friday, May 04, 2007

Sound In Art / Art In Sound

Sound In Art / Art In Sound

I wrote about the MMAA's new Sound Art show (Sound In Art / Art In Sound) on April 17 - just a few days after attending the exhibition opening in St. Paul. It was a great show and I felt compelled to write about every detail. So, what we've got here is a rather long feature on the exhibition, covering every piece in the show, with very little actual detail to be found. So, for the details... you'll have to go see/hear for yourself!

A fellow sound artist suggested I do this write-up, and I've decided to just put it here at the blog. It's an excellent show and if you're anywhere near the Twin Cities, I'd highly recommend you head down to St. Paul and check it out. There's more information at the Minnesota Museum of American Art's website.


Review of the Minnesota Museum of American Art’s Auditory Exploration of the Power and Nuance of Sound: Sound in Art / Art in Sound

Remember the “Cone of Silence,” on TV’s Get Smart? The main character, an undercover agent, would routinely meet with his Chief about something top secret and insist that their conversation be held within this giant plastic contraption which would descend from the ceiling. The “Cone of Silence,” over forty years later, inspired me when I was brainstorming how to put together an exhibit of sound art. My concept involved wall mounted buttons positioned next to information about the various sound pieces in the show, which when pushed would activate clear plastic bubbles kitted out with speakers mounted in the top, serving as single-person versions of the Cone. While you were standing beneath these plastic shields, you and you alone would be able to hear the piece.

I’m not the only person to be considering such options, these days. The problem of how to display audio art is one shared by many artists and curators as the medium of audible artwork is being embraced by more and more museums and galleries. The latest of these is the Twin Cities’ own Minnesota Museum of American Art whose exhibition, Sound in Art / Art in Sound, opened on Saturday, April 14, in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

A sound artist myself, I was eager to check out the show for a variety of reasons, not least of which was to see how the curators would tackle the problems of effectively presenting audio art. I also wanted to see how the artists worked to keep the interest of an audience who are more accustomed to looking at rather than listening to fine art.

Upon entering the exhibit, the first installation seen and then heard (Shawn Decker’s Green) is composed of four long, thin sheets of Plexiglas, hung separately from the museum’s high ceilings, which greet you with a carbonated series of electronic sounds. Each strip of clear plastic contains eight tiny speakers emitting a series of percussive clicks, ticks, and pops inspired by the sound patterns created by insects in midwestern meadows. Decker mimics these insects through the use of custom programmed micro-controllers, electro-magnetic sensors, and light sensors. The sounds we hear have an almost organic rhythm, changing along with small variances in electromagnetic radiation and light levels, which in turn are affected by the viewer’s presence.

Sound in Art / Art in Sound is largely serious in tone, with just one or two exceptions, one of which appears early on in the sequence of exhibits, perhaps to throw us off the scent. Helena Keeffe’s piece (The Past Is Over) is funny and necessarily childish in tone, beginning from a simple idea. The artist worked with a voice impersonator and students from Oakland, California’s Rooftop Elementary School to create a series of imaginary political speeches which, if heard spoken by G. W. Bush, would make him “the President of your dreams.” The assumption being, here, that our nation’s 43rd President has yet to give such a speech. (And it’s an assumption with which the students who worked with Keeffe on this project would seem to agree.) The most memorable faux-speech begins with, “I am so sorry! My brain was being attacked by aliens.

Following the silliness of Keeffe’s recordings, Matthew Garrison’s use of sound and video recordings of military conflict seems especially fierce (Autorange). The installation leaves an impressionistic portrait of overseas violence that is primarily composed of recordings of two large explosions that have been slowed down to create the background rumblings which form the exoskeleton of the audio portion of the piece. Within those rumbles we hear military personnel engaged in precise maneuvers, accompanied by sound effects and music. Garrison’s piece, in such close proximity to Keeffe’s lighthearted (albeit provocative) response to one of the men largely responsible for this violence, brings us back into a more serious mindset, as we remove our first set of headphones and turn our attention to the rest of the show.

Cheryl Wilgren Clyne’s Three features recordings of the artist’s granddaughter as she improvises and experiments with her newfound abilities in the realm of speech. Video, featuring sepia toned moving images of children and bicycles projected onto a large screen in the entry to the main gallery space, was added later in an attempt to focus the direction of the sound. The audible portion of the installation is amplified from two small speakers resting on top of the video projector, positioned high above our heads. Clyne’s decision to amplify the soundtrack with speakers, rather than utilizing sets of headphones (as does every other sound and video artist in the show) is quite daring, especially considering the noise levels at Saturday’s opening reception.

Moving on, we find ourselves confronted by two listening stations, with two sets of accompanying headphones. Distracted by movement from the left, however, I remind myself to head back that way and approach a large metal frame serving as support for a giant, moving band of metal which is making inviting sounds. An endlessly undulating loop, this doesn’t grate the way the repetition of a recorded loop can, as it changes in subtle and dynamic ways, never truly repeating itself vibration for sonic vibration.

This piece (Jack F. X. Pavlik’s The Storm) has long been a favorite local sculpture, although I hadn’t previously considered the aural component as closely as I was encouraged to on this occasion. The kinetic sculptor incorporates a small, virtually silent motor, which quietly manipulates a long, rigidly flexible piece of sheet metal to create two events: a languid, wave-like shape which sways tirelessly and hypnotically; and the accompanying sound, as you might imagine would result from the movement of a very long strip of metal, flexing and vibrating in a slow, unending loop. What you hear is perhaps reminiscent of sounds from outer space, something heard underwater, or the imagined sound of radio transmissions from a stranger’s dreams. The sculpture is both beautiful to see and to hear.

Before heading back to the two listening stations, I stop to inspect an assemblage of wood, glass, and rubber hose, which turns out to be a kind of science experiment conducted by sound sculptor, Leif Brush, made in an effort to record a very specific sound in nature. The artist likes to record “normally undetectable natural sound phenomenon” like the sound of a tree growing, or perhaps the trickle of water as it moves through the soil deep underground. Leif Brush was one of the first artists to embrace sound as a legitimate artistic medium, beginning in the 1970s when he used his knowledge of earth science and electronics to earn an MFA in Audible Sculpture from the School Of The Art Institute of Chicago. He’s currently working with satellites, global positioning technology and cellular phones to create “sound weavings.”

Along with Shawn Decker’s micro-controllers and electromagnetic sensors, this particular part of the show would fit as comfortably within an exhibition at the Science Museum as it does here at the MMAA. One absolutely comes away with the impression that the science involved is as much a part of this work as the sound, and it is fascinating; but it also has the effect of distracting from the presentation of the audio. The Frost Printer by Leif Brush, along with photographs by Gloria DeFilipps Brush, presents the account of the recording of the activity of frost formation. Warm water trickles down a tube attached to a barn sash window, outfitted with sound sensors, at ten degrees below zero. (Leif Brush is from Duluth, MN by the way – sounds like a Duluth winter, to me.) The warm water instantly forms layers of frost on the panes of glass, creating “sub-audio sounds” which are picked up and recorded by the attached sensors. Unfortunately, the sounds were so “sub” that they were lost in the vastness of the room. I couldn’t find headphones, and the audio was nowhere to be heard, otherwise.

In an exhibit full of work by sound artists, the problem of how to effectively keep the pieces from overlapping on top of each other (becoming, in effect, a collage of sound art) is perhaps the primary cause for concern. I didn’t have a chance to talk with curator Theresa Downing, though I imagine she would agree that visual art curators don’t have this particular kind of problem (at least not to the same extent). When visual artworks compete with each other for attention, the solution may simply be to move one work a bit further from its neighbor, out of the line of sight. With sound, however, you must isolate the individual pieces in such a way that they are less capable of infringing on the audible space of their fellow presenters. This is a much more difficult task.

At the opening of Sound in Art / Art in Sound, the problem of hearing the pieces was exacerbated by the noise coming from the large crowd of appreciative viewers (listeners?) and also from a (wonderful) performance by Minneapolis-based sound art duo, Beatrix*JAR. The duo’s performance was rhythmic, funky, and surreal, but it also made the problem of effectively presenting sound art come dramatically into focus.

For instance, if I hadn’t gone back the next day to try and pick out some of what I’d missed, I’d be completely unable to convey the humor of Abinadi Meza’s Creature. The piece seems to consist of a collage of sounds made by a small cat, recorded while confined within the bag which now contains the speakers which amplify that sound recording. The bag is a modern pet carrier, much softer than a cage, but the imprisoned cat is recorded pawing and scraping, mewing and groaning in much the way my own cat does whenever I’m forced to confine him in a large cardboard box (punched with dozens of air holes, of course) for car rides to the vet. I was only able to really listen to the piece by going back to the show the next day, and even then I had to get down on my hands and knees, pressing my ear closer to the bag, to hear it. I’d have listened longer, but my knees began to ache (and I think I may have given the museum’s security guard some cause for concern kneeling on the floor, dangerously close to one of the museum’s artworks)!

I’m afraid sound art shows are doomed to rooms full of headphones for this reason, as the pieces which were least likely to be in constant competition with the other sounds in the room (which admittedly is occasionally the artist’s intent) were the ones which offered a set of private earphones, aiming the audio directly at our eardrums.

Another of Abinadi Meza’s pieces, Beacon (also presented in headphones), seemed to intersect with Pavlik’s steel waves and Brush’s frost recordings, as it documented the sounds of snowflakes hitting a steel plate on a winter evening in Minnesota. The inclusion of the sound of snowplows overwhelms the sound of snowflakes, just as the actual plows were overwhelming the piles of flakes at the time of the recording. The addition of video material served that extra purpose of keeping the interest of those of us who have been trained to walk through a museum relatively quickly, observing each piece only briefly before moving on, but rarely as long as the duration of many of these audio works. The inclusion of visual stimulation no doubt encourages the patron to listen longer to the driving force behind the piece.

Mike Hallenbeck was one of two artists to present his audio art à la carte, an approach I, personally, favor. Sound Spandrell is an “acoustic architectural portrait of the ‘silent’ gallery space” at the MMAA, consisting of a collage of “incidental and idiosyncratic sounds” one might not otherwise have paid attention to while standing alone in the empty room. This piece was intriguing for many reasons, not least of which was the effect it had on my perception of other “non-art” sounds in the gallery. Not unlike Cage’s composition, 4:33 (which in contrast to most musical compositions, including Hallenbeck’s, is in fact “silent”), the piece has the effect of making the listener much more aware of the sounds already in the room. Were my fellow art patron’s squeaking tennis shoes an impromptu addition to the work? What about the contribution of the front doors, faintly heard opening and closing at odd intervals during the course of the run of the piece?

Anne Wallace, whose listening station was mounted right next to Hallenbeck’s, similarly presents her sound collage composed of sounds found in and around the Clear Fork Watershed of the Brazos River, including the rhythmic chanting of birds. Whether it was a trick of production or something naturally present at the site of recording, the result is quite soothing, especially after so much audio intake. Winged creatures given credit on this recording include mockingbirds, geese, owls, hens, wild turkeys, woodpeckers, kingfishers, ducks and jet planes.

Perhaps the most ambitious project in the show is Urban Echo by J. Anthony Allen and Christopher Baker (another piece offered through headphones and accompanied by video projected against the gallery walls). The piece combines sounds recorded live from four locations around the Twin Cities, ambient sounds recorded live in the gallery, and individual contributions from participants’ cellular phones. Patrons are invited to leave voicemail and text messages answering the questions: “What do you hear? What do you want others to hear?” The voicemail recordings float throughout the piece, and the text messages pop up beneath a video projection consisting entirely of a constantly changing, moving map of the Twin Cities area, as the location of each text messenger is pinpointed (thanks to the inclusion of a zip code in their message). The result is a dizzying awareness of the size of the area and the far reaches from which the show’s many viewers have traveled. The artists seem to be as interested in exploring interactivity in art as they are in technology and audio art.

All in all, this is a groundbreaking show for the Twin Cities and a fascinating exploration of sound art. Jack F. X. Pavlik’s kinetic sculpture and Allen and Baker’s map were standouts for me, as were the 32 tiny speakers mimicking the sounds of nature, presented by Shawn Decker. And while curators didn’t use anything like my “Cone of Silence” concept, I did find a good variety of both familiar and unfamiliar methods for presenting sound art. You may be surprised to experience a heightened sense of sound awareness, upon leaving the exhibition. If one indication of a successfully communicated piece of art is the work’s ability to create that kind of change in perception, then I would call this show a resounding success!

The exhibition runs through July 1st, 2007 at the Minnesota Museum of American Art, which is located at 50 West Kellogg Boulevard in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

You can find more information about the show at the MMAA website.