The Murder of Crows: Sound Sculpture

Right now I am sitting here trying to figure out how to describe a piece of sound art to you. It is nearly impossible. Painting, film, some installation work, even some performance art (which has a tangible understanding in the form of movement), are physical forms of artistic expression that have such a distinct frame of reference, a picture, that can somewhat get across pieces of an idea. But sound? And sculpting with sound? Taking sound and treating it like an object, volleying it around in space, it attacking you from behind, describing from our auditory references- it's a very hard thing to try an impart to you as I come from the Park Avenue Armory event where I saw, heard, experienced Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller's installation of their piece The Murder of Crows.

The Armory itself is just that, built in 1880 the space was used for stock piling weapons and recreation for the elite members of the effet "Silk Stocking" Regiment, taking up an entire city block in the middle of what is now just another hustling NY neighborhood. The space, whose main "drill" hall consists of a 38,000 sq foot expanse began executing large scale contemporary art pieces over the last few years ranging in scope from towering, odorous piles of used clothing to an installation dedicated to the training of American Astronauts. This is the first piece I have been able to get to at this visionary space and I am so glad that my first time here was with this incredible piece of art.

When you enter the huge hall a dimly lit glow emanates from the middle, the light blurring out into darkness on the outskirts, black boxes of speakers positioned on chairs, stands and hanging from the great heights of the ceiling, a ring of folding chairs & benches fade into the background, a single phonograph horn is positioned in the center of the lighted pulse. The artists likened the setting to a sci-fi/Blade Runner (I think Brazil) feeling and it was: a spooky, futuristic, minimalist frame of a space that begins to take on a life and form of its own. As you approach the distanced eerie center, sound slowly begins to seep into your surroundings. Each speaker (98 in all!) is positioned around the room taking on a different voice, a different channel of sound that works in relation to the others to envelope you in a sonic story that moves beyond your ears. It is so hard to describe this. Picture a flock of crows overhead, swooping from right to left, then close your eyes and listen to what they sound like: the flapping of wings, the varying levels and intensities of caws, their flight moving over you in a rush, the sound moving in a wave across the different channel of speakers from one side of the room to the other. The content of the piece I was unable to spend too much time with, I didn't even get a transcript which they had available, but it seems the words were about dreams the artist had had (her voice coming from the single phonograph horn in the center of the room) and the sounds accompanying (ranging from was it traditional Russian folk music maybe? anti-fascist march, to ocean waves, to flocks of birds, to factory floors) swirled around the space- around the head of the single voice in the middle- as each speaker played a unique sound to engulf you in a specific vision, a dream, through sound alone.

As someone who has worked in the sound design field and also as a musician a little I know the power that a simple noise can have and I understand the ways in which sound can transform and create emotions, feelings and reactions. With this piece Cardiff & Miller managed to take the feelings that sound can evoke, to actually take the aura of sound, and masterfully shape it into a scene, a setting, a place, a time through the simple tool of speakers (and whatever the hell synchs up 98 distinct tracks? Any ideas? This technical aspects seems overwhelming to me!). The process they have invented, of each speaker defining space with its own distinct sounds (like that of an orchestral composition) and the incredible yet seemingly simple concept of positioning sounds electronically in a room in this way is something that is really revolutionary in terms of the field of sound art, and contemporary art alone for that matter: re-appropriating technology, telling a story in a new strong way, and creating an entire vision out of nothingness.

I didn't take pictures of this event but they wouldn't do it justice anyway and neither do these weird bootlegs of other versions of the piece I posted here...please experience this sonically visionary work! Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller: THE MURDER OF CROWS. Fri Aug 3rd- Sun Sept 9th. Park Avenue Armory: 643 Park Avenue btwn 66th & 67th. Tues-Sun: 12-7. Thurs: 12-9. Aug 12th: 12-3. Sept 3rd 12-7. FREE ADMISSION AUGUST 4th 12-7. $12 Gen, $10 Student/Senior.



Donna K. is a recent transplant to the Midwest where she can be found exploring culture at large through film programming, writing and her general interest in the world- both on and offline.