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Exhibition: Earlids
Sheila Johnson Design Center
January 29th – February 5th, 2014

Focus was created for the exhibition Earlids at Parsons the new School for Design. The exhibition was curated by a group called the Sound Research Group, a cross disciplinary collection of faculty at the New School, of which I am a member.

You can see the exhibition website here.


Project Description

This video responds to the theme of the exhibition — Earlids. What enables us to focus on listening? And when we DO focus, what do we hear? In this case the act of planting four mute speakers in the snow, a neutral ground, provides an opportunity to capture sound in three ways.

First, this simple gesture focused my own attention as an observer on these objects, connecting my senses to the world of noise around me: the melting snow, the birds, the drone of the exhaust fan from the Thai restaurant. In this case the object is irrelevant, it could have been a hair dryer or a rock, and it would have had the same effect: a narrowing of attention in one perceptual sense that then opened the door for a greater attention in another.

Second, the act of recording opens the senses as well. As Hildegard Westerkamp writes:

The microphone alters listening. The mere comparison between how our ears listen and how the microphone picks up sounds in the environment, brings alerted awareness to the soundscape.

Third, the resulting media — the video, leaves the final act of listening to the viewer/listentener. The questionable nature of the juxtaposition of these speaker-objects and the overlaid soundscape may seem to some unremarkable, it may provoke a series of assumptions about the source of the sound, or it may enliven an interest in a soundscape that was captured at that moment,

Press Release

An Exhibition Hosted by Sound@Newschool
January 24th through February 5th 2014
Reception and events on January 29th 5:00 – 9:00

5:30 – Earlids Reception
6:30 – Performance 0’00″ Derek Baron
7:00 – Talk by Tom Roe of transmission arts organization Wave Farm and artist Sam Sebren
8:00 – Performances Melissa Grey – Appassionata (10min) and 60×60 (2012) New York Minutes Mix (60 minutes)

Arnold and Sheila Aronson Galleries Hallway
66 5th Avenue, New York City

“Come with me now and sit in the grandstand of life. The seats are free and entertainment is continuous. The world orchestra is always playing: we hear it inside and outside, from near and far. There is no silence for the living. We have no ear lids. We are condemned to listen.”

– R. Murray Schafer

We are often reminded that we are a culture of spectacle. If we privilege our eyes, what does it mean to return our attention to our ears and listening? As Schafer and many others have argued, our ears open us to the world. Our species once depended on the openness of the ear to shape understanding; the survival of our earliest forebears may have depended on a keen attention to the snaps, scrapes and echoes that surrounded them as signals of imminent danger. As long as there have been sensate ears to hear it, sound has been leveraged as a tool to create community, to maintain power, to please, and to punish, but have we begun to lose our appreciation for the potency of this sense that sits in the shadow of vision? How can listening and the openness of the ear help us to think through interdisciplinary work in art, philosophy, media and beyond?

In the exhibition Earlids, the research group Sound@Newschool draws attention to some of the many manifestations of sound within our own university including performance, radio documentary, sound and image, interactive installations, community-based podcasting, video, and sound art. Earlids seeks to engage the following questions: How can sound be used as a vehicle to transport meaning across different disciplines? How might a focus on our methods of listening to, generating, and studying sound, provide a feedback mechanism for shared dialogue? How might sound act as a transdisciplinary hub within the New School?

Left: Focus – John Roach
Top: She Surrounds Us – Ryan Raffa
Right: The Awkward Listener – Phuong Nguyen

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