Use of Logbooks for Audience Interaction in Sound Installations
By Andra McCartney
One of the areas we want to think about in the Soundwalking Interactions project is how different kinds of interactions affect the way people approach and listen to soundscape installations. Here, I would like to discuss two attempts to engage audiences through the provision of texts that suggest to the audience to add to, change and embellish the existing logbook. I wrote about the first use of a logbook for audience interaction, in a paper called “Reception and Reflexivity in Electroacoustic Creation” for the Electroacoustic Music Studies Network conference in Paris, June 2008. Here is my discussion from that paper, with some editing changes based on more recent reflections:
In 1999-2000, I recorded soundwalks about every two weeks for a year, from the end of my street to my house, about a five minute walk. Half way through the year, I moved in Canada from Toronto, Ontario, to Montreal, Quebec, so the street changed while the practise remained the same. The following year, for a group sound art show at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I assembled the recordings on CD, made up a logbook in which I asked the audience questions about their relationship to sounds of home and neighbourhood, and invited listeners to respond to the work. There were three questions for listeners to consider: What sounds surround your home? What sounds remind you of home? What sounds constitute an ideal home? The CD player was positioned in the gallery next to an armchair with headphones, intending to remind listeners of a living room space.
This project has several features that characterise much of my recent work: a focus on a particular place, a historical dimension provided by repeated soundwalks over extended time in the same location, a consideration of related themes (in this case, home and migration), and an attempt to engage in dialogue with an audience.
The textual descriptions in the book recount the experience of the walks and add further contextual information. The listener comments converse with my work, and begin a dialogue between the visitors. Listeners focus on different elements of the soundwalk, depending on their experience. One person comments on the streetcars and suggests an ideal streetcar ambience in New Orleans, which I have not yet experienced but intend to. Also there is a difference of opinion about the sounds of children playing. One listener says that they like the sounds of children, whereas another says they would prefer the sounds of knives clashing in the shower. My work on Westerkamp’s Moments of Laughter (2000) included harsh and even hostile responses to the sound of a child’s voice being projected in a public sphere, and the knives in shower response is another example of that complex emotional response to an everyday domestic sound.
On pages not associated with particular sound pieces, the conversation sometimes became more abstract and more related to particular artists and art practices. Some listeners refered to the less than ideal gallery setup, where bright lights interfered with the semblance of a home-like intimacy, and the playback equipment was not adequate. This is a frequent complaint with sound-based installations in galleries that are designed for the showing of visual art.
The three artists discussed by visitors seem to be mentioned almost in passing, as people run into casually or heard in the car. Yet they are thematically related. All three share a similar interest with audience interaction, a direct and significant relationship with the Soundwalk to Home project. Composer Martin Arnold says “For me, experiencing art is co-creative with the maker.” (1985: 29), articulating an active role for the audience. Vito Acconci, an architect and performance artist influenced by Situationism, made work such as Seedbed (1972), that intended to create a situation of reciprocal exchange between artist and audience. Adrian
Piper’s work, including her soundwalks, is the most clearly connected to my own. She believes that art should be accessible, and can enact social change, that museums can shift from being zones of tranquillity to engage more directly with life on the street (Sokolowski 2001). The discussion on this logbook page led me to do further research on the practices of these artists, which has contributed to the refinement of my own practice, by thinking about different ways to work with audiences and to integrate the responses of audiences into the work.
At the bottom of the page is a response that is particularly satisfying. One listener expresses a desire to go out and walk, and intimates that they might pay more attention to their own creative practices as a result of engaging with this piece. This directly addresses my desire to encourage creativity in the audience.
The second example of a logbook is one that did not result in the same level of interaction, both in terms of amount of engagement as well as level of engagement. One reason for this may be changes that were made in the design of the log book.
One complaint that the gallery in Chicago had about the Soundwalk to Home logbook is that it appeared very amateurish. It had a DIY aesthetic, and looked a lot like an exercise book or casual journal. It was in a binder with plain paper including some computer print outs and some blank pages. While beginning to design a log book for the Journées Sonores: canal de Lachine project, I decided to make it look like a ’50s magazine, since the canal had been open to industrial traffic in the ’50s, and many of the people interviewed for the project had reminisced about how the canal sounded at that time. Lots of information about the project was included such as program notes, images, essays about the canal. A French section and an English section were included. Again, written encouragements to contribute to the log book were included, as well as several blank pages. We made 8 copies; 4 were taken from the opening, as people did not seem to realise that they were meant as log books. One was given to the museum for their archives. This left 3 that remained with the exhibit throughout its run of 3 months.
But even though there were several thousand visitors to this exhibit, just as with the exhibit in Chicago, and even though the exhibit lasted for three months instead of one month, the number of people who actually wrote in the book was much lower. Also, while visitors commented on the exhibit, there were no cases where a dialogue started to develop between different commentators.
This may be because the appearance of the logbook as a magazine with colour images led people to feel they would be marring or defacing the book. This is even though there were notes in the book encouraging people to write, and pens included for visitors to use. The professional look of the magazine, while attractive as a souvenir, made it less attractive to write in or contribute.
When we include logbooks in upcoming installations, we will go back to the DIY notebook aesthetic. Why bother with print, in the 21st century, when social networking, texting and GPS caching are more in vogue? While we will certainly seek these types of interactions, and recognise the great potential of Internet response for comments at a later time or in other places, often this potential for interaction through computers is not realised to the extent that might be expected.
We believe that it can be most effective to provide a variety of possible interactive modes, from online interaction to direct interaction in workshops and discussions to written interaction in logbooks. Some people prefer to respond in writing and like the tactile quality of the page and pen. Some people think best in live social situations and will discuss ideas in conversation much more readily than in writing, whether hand-writing or typing. Some prefer direct interaction with the sound through movement and gesture. We hope to provide all of these possibilities, in different combinations, throughout the project.