Last week, a group of Fjordians took an inspiration field trip to the Park Avenue Armory to experience Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s “Murder of Crows.” In this spatial-sonic installation, Cardiff recounts an uncanny dream through the subtle use of natural and urban sounds, machine-like distortions, intertwined with classical musical scores and a Russian anti-fascist war song.
As we entered the darkened space, Cardiff began her monologue. It sounded as though she was responding to someone in an intimately eloquent voice, as if we had been thrown into a bedroom conversation. There was a feeling of voyeurism forced intermittently into Cardiff’s dream as she dreams it in sound and music, and asynchronously as she recounts the details of it. The high ceiling and the quality of the sounds emanating from the 98 speakers surrounding us were intimidatingly appealing and immersive. Critiqued by the Helsinki Times as “an aural feast,” the installation uses sound and spatial arrangements as sole material for art. It gave the feeling of a 3D sonar experience, with particular sounds sneaking around us to map the spatial dimensions of the room and delineate the boundaries of the artwork.
Some speakers were anthropomorphized, given human status, positioned on chairs opposite the audience and staring at us from all frontal angles. Cardiff’s softly spoken voice sprang from a gramophone speaker placed at the center of the room, giving her a physical presence in the room. A spotlight shone over her metallic body, and our chairs pointed in her direction to form a circle, drawing the focus to the center of the experience.
Filled with cues for various smells, colors, times and places, the aesthetic experience is essentially about discovering the sound mixture as it distributes itself through the space. We felt immersed in the piece both as viewers and as contributors to the total energy within it. We sat, closed our eyes, stood up, walked in between speakers and beyond the experiential space, and to this end, unknowingly completed the artwork. We naturally formed a temporary community as we sunk into the experience of Cardiff’s most bizarre dream, and shared our energy with that of other participants as a distributed state of mind. Only by being there were we able to fully understand the beauty and intricacy of the musical and spatial compositions.
Walking out, each at our own pace, we could still locate the spotlight getting smaller behind us, and hear Cardiff’s fainting voice as she recounted her dream once again. We could continuously imagine experiencing the artwork in new ways by moving differently in the space.
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