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Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

SFMOMA Sound-Artcast MP3

Sound artist Janet Cardiff currently has a piece at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, a narrated tour of the museum that involves audio and video. To lend context to Cardiff’s work, SFMOMA has featured an archival audio interview with her as part of its occasional podcast (or “artcast”) series of free downloads. Cardiff describes the epiphany of hearing her own narration of an activity played back, as well as her experiments with binaural audio, which when combined have the inherent capability of producing what she calls a “weird disjunction.” (For my impression of another recent Cardiff exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, based on a motet by Thomas Tallis, click through to this January 31 entry.)

The same artcast file also includes a Pamela Z recording, constructed from the reactions of viewers to an exhibit at the museum, all overlapping voices and the whoosh of shared space. Among the weird disjunctions in Z’s piece is hearing her repeat comments, like some phantom of the museum.

One interesting technical side note: the SFMOMA podcast is available in two formats, one a standard MP3, the other an M4A file, which works well in iTunes. The benefit of the latter is that it includes embedded still images, which appear (at least in iTunes) in the window where an album cover would be displayed, and that seem to be timed to the audio. The M4A format is different from the M4V format, which iTunes uses for the episodic videos it hawks, but M4A seems to have a lot of potential as an application for animation and webcomics.

Unfortunately for SFMOMA, also among the materials on this same podcast is “new writing from JT Leroy,” the author who has recently been revealed as a contrivance perpetrated by at least three individuals, none named Leroy and none sharing the fictional author’s troubled adolescence. Knowing that Leroy is a fraud makes the author’s southern accent sound grating instead of humble. Further irony: whoever is reading as Leroy says close to the end of the entry, “Why let facts get in anyone’s way?” Talk about weird disjunctions. (More info at sfmoma.org.)

By Marc Weidenbaum

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