Ph.D. dissertation. 151 pages.
In 2002, I enrolled in Princeton’s doctoral program in music composition, and I received my Ph.D. in 2009.
I spent much of that time researching and writing about the ways that play and sound can transform public spaces into meaningful places. I focused especially on works by three artists: David Byrne, Janet Cardiff, and Christina Kubisch.
Download my dissertation here, or read the abstract below:
“This thesis discusses the ways that sound can be used in public art to intensify the public’s engagement with the spaces surrounding them as well as their own creativity; to create a sense of connection between their outer and inner worlds. At a time when technology seems to seductively and incrementally envelop each of us in a solipsistic bubble, I believe we must instead learn to use it as a means of connection.
By investigating some of the key terms from the title of my dissertation – everyone, play, sound, public, space and place – my first chapter introduces rich and interesting dialogues among the fields of visual art, music, cultural theory and geography. This discourse provides an intellectual scaffolding which informs the three following chapters, arranged in a kind of taxonomy of participation, moving outward in a spiral of increasing freedom given to the audience. Each investigates a strategy that artists working with sound have used to engage the public: physical interactivity, cinematic listening, and sonic psychogeography.
The second chapter investigates the idea of physical interactivity by focusing on David Byrne’s 2008 sound work, Playing the Building. This work transformed an historic building in Lower Manhattan into a musical instrument by inviting the public to play an old organ which literally sounded its pipes, beams and walls through transducers connected to the building blocks of the structure. By exploring the space and playing the organ, visitors sounded the building itself as well as its history, and found themselves, literally, in resonance with an important part of New York’s past.
In the third chapter, I explore the ideas of cinematic listening and physical cinema by proposing a genre in which the solipsistic technology of mobile listening can be converted into an instrument of reconnection, in which the flâneurie of the sound walk is experienced cinematically, the world a screen with headphones providing the soundtrack, thus transforming space into meaningful place through narrative and aesthetics. Janet Cardiff’s 2004 cinematic sound walk, Her Long Black Hair, is analyzed and a number of strategies are put forward that translate sound theory from cinema studies to this new genre of cinematic listening.
The fourth and final chapter investigates Christina Kubisch’s Electrical Walks, a public sound work for electromagnetic headphones, from the perspective of several sonic walks through history. By creating their own walking trajectories through the city, Electrical Walk’s participants compose individual soundtracks from the whirs and drones permeating the city’s electrical grid, turning the city itself into a sonic interface. The chapter introduces this work, then eavesdrops on a whirlwind history of sonic walks, exploring the resonances among Electrical Walks, the Australian Aboriginal songlines, Hildegard Westerkamp’s acoustic ecology soundwalks, Erik Satie’s perambulations through Paris, and Gustav Mahler’s liberatory nature walks. I end with an epilogue summarizing the way these ideas relate to my dissertation piece, 11 Dreams in Red Hook.”