Today we get to meet Gladys and Elissa from the Sound Museum Collective, a sound art collective based out of Philadelphia. They've recently been involved in an interesting project called the Intra-Galactic Forest, which is part of a bigger multi-year project called S(tree)twork (link: https://streetworkproject.net/intra-galactic-forest/). Could you start off by telling us a little bit about the Intra-Galactic Forest and what it represented as a project?
Gladys: It represented a bringing to life of what was once there and what is there, and calling upon this ten-year city project of planting trees in low-canopy areas. This summoning was a way to draw in the energy for the next 10 years of trees being planted in Philadelphia.
This project was actually part of a number of events that happened over the entire month of September, right? What were some of the different events that occurred, and what was this culmination at the end?
Elissa: We at the Sound Museum Collective did two different workshops/gatherings. The first event introduced participants to Deep Listening by Pauline Oliveros. We also got people acquainted with field recorders - like Zooms and Tascams - and we let them gather field recordings from around the Awbury Arboretum. Part of the driving force for that particular exercise was thinking about how trees hear (or listen) and considering that trees connect the ground to the sky. During the second workshop, we took those field recordings from participants - and this is where we ended up using Max/MSP. We had created several patches, and we attached sensors through Arduinos. We ended up only being able to use two sensors, including a water flow sensor that we attach to a watering can.
Using this system, participants could listen to their field recordings and then, while they were watering vegetation, their field recordings were being manipulated. We also had a wind sensor that affected audio playback speed. So participants could be listening to their field recordings and then the wind would be affecting and altering those field recordings. That was how Sound Museum Collective participated. But there were a lot of other really cool contributions: Eugene Lew did a very interesting workshop, where he used different antennas to try and capture sferic sounds - the sounds that the atmosphere makes.
Gladys: Yeah, that workshop was based on very low-frequency remote sensing and it was a way to continue to show the transformative power that sound has with our environment. It also shows how sound is integrated with the trees around us, both biologically, geographically, and culturally. There was also a workshop focused on the drum corps, where we built drums out of trees that had fallen at Awbury. "Silent fall" is what they're called when they fall and no one is around. Using the story from Sun Ra Arkestra (of the lightning-struck tree that generated the Ancient Infinity Lightning Wood Drum), and bringing that energy into it, honors the trees that have fallen, bringing them "back to life" and talking to the other trees. We used a hybrid model of the Krin slit from Guinea, Africa and tongue style drums which were used to communicate from tribe to tribe. Don Miller (local Philly woodworker), Rich Robinson (drummer and teacher), and Juan Castrillón (multimodal cultural anthropologist and ethnomusicologist) were crucial to the project.
There was also a leaf printing workshop that (Lead Artist) Futurefarmers led as well with Ignacio Chapela (Microbial Ecologist, UC Berkeley) and Aaron Terry (Printmaker, University of Delaware). They were inspired by Joseph Breitnall, who was documenting the plants and trees in Philadelphia during the 1700's. Futurefarmers presented us with ink that was made from a walnut husk, as part of the printing process.
So there were all these other components, each a part of the final project as well.
Interesting. This took place in an arboretum, right? Where in Philadelphia is that located?
Elissa: Yes, it's the Awbury Arboretum, and it is located in the Germantown area of Philadelphia, near Mount Airy.
Gladys: It's a pretty expansive space. The Arboretum has a farm village where they have goats, they have a lot of plants, and an area where the public can learn about raising bees, too. There's also the Cope House side, which hosts a lot of events as well, and Adventure Woods, which is more for the kids. It has a very expansive play area and structures made out of trees.
Elissa: But the arboretum itself - it's a fairly large space. It's also a historical space in Philadelphia, founded by Henry Cope. He used to be a sea merchant, and this was actually a way station. There's a train station there right now, but that's historically what it was. The land itself was landscaped to be reminiscent of the hills of England, and there are still a ton of historic houses surrounding the arboretum.
And The Summoning, this culminating event that occurred on September 26th. This event actually included interaction with the Sun Ra Arkestra, correct?
Gladys: Yes. Marshall Allen led the procession and included many wonderful musicians from town. This was a project that had so many collaborators like The Philadelphia Horticultural Society and Ars Nova (which was communicating with the Arkestra). Rich, who was leading in the drum corps brought on two other drummers, Ira Bond and Robert Kenyatta. Kenyatta played with Wilson Pickett! Then you had Sound Museum Collective bringing a mixed down track of our workshop recordings to the public through "seed” transmission speaker sculptures that the Futurefarmers built. We're "planting" these sounds. The track included a mix of the raw field recordings, the ones manipulated with the wind and water sensors, and a jam session that we created on the second day of the workshop.
There was also Sallie: an Interstellar Composition coordinated by Marijke Jorritsma (Software Designer with NASA), Yasi Perera (artist/musician), Micah Keren-Zev (frelance musician/composer, and Michaella Moon (Cal Arts). The composition was a converted data of plasma waves moving from Saturn to its moon into an audio file that we can hear.
Yeah. So it's really interesting how you actually wove together all the different workshops that occurred throughout the entire month. All kind of came together in this final event, right?
Gladys: Yeah. It was really beautiful. Thank you to lead artist Marina McDougall, Future Farmers, PHS, and truly all of those involved.
So let's talk just for a second about the Sound Museum Collective. You also are based out of Philadelphia, right?
Gladys: Yeah. We're a group of women, trans, non-binary people demystifying the tech world for and with sound artists and audio engineers.
Are you primarily doing workshops and introductory events? Is that how you're doing the outreach to the public?
Elissa: How our outreach has existed has shifted a lot. When we first came together as sound artists and sound engineers, we also found that there were a lot of people who were very interested in these skills, but felt that there were so many barriers to entry. So we actually began by doing a lot of workshops, with the intention of being able to move to a space where we were doing more collaborative projects. A lot of our content online right now is tutorials of past workshops we've done; but luckily, within the past year and a half or so, we've been able to transition more and more into collaborative projects with community partners.
That's really amazing. Now, your name - Sound Museum Collective - kind of implies a couple of things. First of all, in reviewing your website (link), you state that you Are a non-member collective. What does that mean, actually?
Elissa: So, the way some art collectives work, people might have to pay membership dues. For us, not only do you not have membership dues, but also we have a pretty steady rotation of people who are in and out of the collective. This gives everyone the space that they need to create, but also the space that they need to do their own thing and take care of themselves. I think something that also feels really great about that, is anyone can be a member of Sound Museum Collective. You know, if you come to one of our workshops - just by being there you're a part of Sound Museum Collective. So that's really what we meant by that statement.
That's interesting because it does seem like breaking down barriers is actually really at the core of what you're doing.
Gladys: Yeah. I think a really important part for me, too, was the experimental nature of it, and not necessarily knowing how to use certain electronics or knowing how Max/MSP works, for example. I have no idea - but I wanted to learn. So it was a way to approach that fear, and instead feel comfortable not knowing, and wanting to experiment, and to feel like I'm actually being heard. I guess the museum part (of the name) is that there's also a gear library. There are synths and sound equipment that can be borrowed. We'll do something like a P.A. Workshop or a beat-making event - things where people can actually get their hands on the gear, or explore sound improvisations.
So, what are some of the next projects for the Sound Museum Collective?
Elissa: We have a lot of projects coming up. We're in the middle of one project, which we still haven't quite named yet, but we have a gallery space at Haverford College. We're actually turning it into an interactive sound room. So when you navigate the space, you'll be setting off triggers in various ways, and these triggers will be playing different natural disaster sounds.
Gladys: The concept is sort of like leaving this corporeal reality and being in tune with nature and using our own body to trigger these sounds.
Elissa: Or maybe it is like entering corporal reality, or at least coming to terms with it through the ways in which we interact with space, and the ways in which it interacts with us. There is a maybe small undercurrent comment about the ways in which our corporeal reality relates to natural disaster also.
You can learn more about the Sound Museum Collective using the following links:
https://www.soundmuseumcollective.org https://soundmuseumcollective.bandcamp.com https://www.instagram.com/sound_museum_collective/ https://streetworkproject.net
Photos by: Constance Mensh for S(tree)twork, 2021