Art History Featured in Celebrated “Sound Art” Exhibition at the New Bedford Art Museum
Work by UMass Dartmouth students is currently being featured in an exhibition at the New Bedford Art Museum titled “Sound in Space, Sound in Place.” The show has already received endorsements from The Boston Globe, The Standard-Times, and The Public’s Radio 89.3, an NPR member station serving Rhode Island and the South Coast. Co-curated by NBAM’s Executive Director, Suzanne de Vegh, and Walker Downey, a Professor in UMass Dartmouth’s Department of Art Education, Art History, and Media Studies, “Sound in Space, Sound in Place” is a survey of “sound art,” a young but vibrant field of contemporary artistic practice that explores sound outside of musical frames of reference.
Some of the artists in the show allow visitors to experience sound as a viscerally physical phenomenon unfolding in space: while John Driscoll and Phil Edelstein’s immersive installation Cluster Fields surrounds listeners with chirps and drones spilling out of horn loudspeakers and strange sculptural objects, Tess Oldfield’s Whirly Chorus comprises a row of “Whirly Tubes” (children’s noisemakers also known as “bugle resonators”) mounted on the wall and attached to motors, and programmed to spin rapidly at pre-set intervals, producing a “chorus” of ghostly hums.
Other components of the exhibition spotlight sound’s capacity to cultivate a sense of community and place: accessible via both a physical listening station and an interactive online map, “The New Bedford Soundscape” is a sonic portrait of New Bedford featuring audio clips submitted by the New Bedford community. New Bedford residents were asked to submit recordings of sounds—whether birds, boat-motors, or church-bells—that contribute to New Bedford’s unique sonic identity—its “soundscape.” The exhibition’s focus on sound in place is enriched by a series of experimental sound compositions produced by students in co-curator Walker Downey’s Spring 2023 seminar on sound recording, audio editing, and sound art. For their second major assignment, students in the class were asked to produce two-to-five-minute compositions of recorded sound that strongly articulate the identity of a particular place and their feelings associated with it. Some of the featured works interpret this prompt literally, transporting listeners to a physical location: for example, a hiking trail; downtown New Bedford; or the threshold between indoors and outdoors. Other works grapple more abstractly with this theme, rendering mental and emotional states: “places” of immersion, discomfort, detachment, and nostalgia. “Sound in Space, Sound in Place” is open through June 4, 2023.