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The Carletonian

Artscape turned soundscape

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How do we create sound to a world vividly conveyed, in the silent stillness of a painting?

How do we create narratives and living worlds beyond the dimensions presented by the artist? This is the question that Jay Beck had his class address for the exhibit Sets, Series, Sounds, which opened on Wednesday the 27th and will run until the 12th of June.

Working with Laurel Bradley the curator of the museum, Beck selected works from the Carleton permanent collection and had the students create relevant soundscapes.

The artworks are displayed in the gallery where there are iPods loaded with the relevant soundscapes. Those viewers willing to wait and observe the artwork will gain an appreciation for the students work. The sounds attempt to project the ambiance and narratives elicited by the artwork.

The works were selected from the Carleton archives and were remarkably diverse. They varied from 1980s paintings of rural Minnesota to 17th century depictions of ancient Rome to an early experimental photo- graph from 1844. The challenge placed on students meant creating soundscapes to the time and the place. Not only would rural or urban life have to be depicted, but also sounds would have to suit the reality for the artist’s works.

Students would try to create the low fi sounds of pre-industrial England or the everyday sounds of ancient Rome. This required the students to “think about sounds historically” as well as those immediate in the artwork. One student took an 1895 Japanese print, a fierce naval battle by Adachi Ginko, and searched for the relevant naval battle and tried to recreate the crickets imagined in a rural scene combined with the implicit distant motorway.

The students were encouraged to come up with their own soundscape interpreting the artwork. Having researched the time and place of the artist, students were encouraged to create and justify their individual soundscapes. One student created a 1940s soundscape for an 1844 photograph, William Henry Fox Talbot’s Open Door. This bold choice was justified by the experimental artworks lack of temporality. This meant tha the photograph of an open door could easily belong to the world of Second World War Britain. This is exemplary of attempts by the students to create worlds with the artworks. The creativity in the student’s soundscape was the intention of Professor Beck. The class was designed to allow students to present their own interpretations, as the professor wanted to move way from the narrow definition of “the correct” soundscape.

The project was an assignment for Professor Beck’s sound design class CAMS 265. This is the second time a class has been assigned the project, yet in the first time it has been displayed in the museum, using the Carleton permanent collection. In previous years it had been a collection relying on the ‘masterpieces’ of art, which were not found in the Carleton collection. In previous years the project had been done internally, only the teacher and the fellow students seeing the finished projects. In assessing the exhibit, Professor Beck states it is “a great way to use the resources of Carleton and to showcase the work of the students”.

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