Field Notes: Sounds Extreme

Posted on December 10, 2017


Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

  • I frequently recommend the Cooper Hewitt across age groups. In addition to the Designing with Sound exhibit during my October visit, I saw an excellent exhibit on Design in the Digital Age, and an interesting Virtue in Vice exhibit with objects categorized across the seven deadly sins.
  • My previous visit to the Cooper Hewitt led to writing about Pixar.

Notes on Max Neuhaus, Times Square

  • Considering the foot traffic through Times Square, this is probably the most visited art installation in America. It just so happens the vast majority of visitors don’t realize they’ve visited. Neuhaus said, “I want at least fifty percent of the people to be able to walk through it without noticing, without hearing it.” By my observation across at least five visits, it goes 99% unnoticed.
  • Neuhaus’s description of Times Square at the time is great: “It includes large billboards, moving neon signs, office buildings, hotels, theaters, porno centers and electronic game emporiums. Its population is equally diverse, including tourists, theatregoers, commuters, pimps, shoppers, hucksters and office workers.”

Notes on Aki Onda and Akio Suzuki, Sound Artists

  • It seems strange to “happen” upon a performance in West Texas, but such is the case. I had traveled from New York to Marfa, Texas to revisit Chinati and the Judd Foundation.
  • Onda and Suzuki both seem like interesting characters. Onda is more quotable for me, partly because Onda is fluent in English, whereas Suzuki relies on a translator.
  • “You know, sound is everywhere. There is no silence in our daily life.” -Aki Onda
  • “I love mistakes. They often open a door which I hadn’t noticed before.” -Aki Onda
  • “Our life is basically unpredictable. We don’t know what’s happening in the future, and we are learning how to cope with that unknown future all throughout our life. It’s exciting, but somehow it’s painful as well. Everything is transitory in this world. Memories lose their significance, but their essence remains. We use them in our daily life. And we need them for making music.” -Aki Onda
  • Onda’s lengthier comments about soundscape are really interesting. I’ll never look at candles the same: “I always imagine the space. Some musicians, when they play, they imagine the notes, but I’m the opposite, I imagine the soundscape. For a Cassette Memories performance, I burn numerous beeswax candles in the performing space. The light and scent of candles set the atmosphere of the performance. It’s also a symbol of remembrance, as people have been using candles for centuries. Candles have a practical purpose – they change and improve the acoustics since they make a certain airflow in the space. If I place candles around the centre of the floor, the air goes up to the ceiling directly and runs down along the walls, making a dome-shaped airflow. Then, if I send my sound from vintage amps to the candle area, the sound follows the airflow and creates very spacious acoustics. Listeners sometimes don’t realise where the sound source is. Or if they stand by the walls, they feel like the sound is falling down from above them.”
  • Onda’s life philosophy: “I just want to rewrite rules.”

Integrated Design

  • “If you take sound away from an experience, and you don’t miss it, then it shouldn’t have been there in the first place.” -Joel Beckerman, Composer and Sound Designer
  • In the 1981 Letterman interview, Mel Blanc also describes the effort required to do full animation: “To make a 6.5 minute cartoon in full animation took 125 people 9 months to make 1 single fully animated cartoon. And even then it cost around $50,000. Today it would cost around half a million.” Remember this is before computer-generated imagery.
  • Referring to drawing animation after the voice is recorded, Blanc states this neatly: “They draw to the voice.”
  • Referring to music (over)use in movies, film editor and sound designer Walter Murch said, “Most movies use music the way athletes use steroids.”
  • I avoided any direct discussion on noise pollution. It seems an obvious corollary topic, and it would be hard to overemphasize the concern in urban American environments.
  • Related to noise and acoustic design, I recall one California town deploying recorded bird songs to reduce crime, a concept that may in fact be supported by research on pleasant soundscapes.


New Orleans

Posted on November 24, 2017


Having vanquished the French Quarter in prior trips to New Orleans, a long sunny weekend in November provided the perfect opportunity to explore additional neighborhoods in the city.

Magazine and Arts

Magazine Street angles southwest of the Quarter, beyond the museums and galleries of the Arts District. The commercial center of the Garden District, Magazine is easily walkable from the 2000 block (closer to the Quarter) to the 4000 block (further from the Quarter) with many shops and stops along the way. Consider breakfast at Surrey’s and an afternoon beer at the Bulldog patio. Passing back through the Arts District in the evening provides an excellent environment to taste wine (at w.i.n.o. naturally) and savor Cajun flavors at Cochon.

Bywater and The End of the World

Walking east of the Quarter through the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods offers varied views of restored venues and waterfronts. A stop in the friendly Bacchanal Wine backyard is a jazz-heavy respite from the sidewalks. And I absolutely love the (accurate) descriptions of The End of the World as a “makeshift park” behind the abandoned F. Edward Hebert Defense Complex. It’s worth the secluded walk for the more adventurous. If a hearty meal is in order, go for Pizza Delicious or the adjacent German beer garden on Piety street. But you absolutely cannot beat an evening meal/sauna/pool combination at The Country Club, which does sell swim gear by the way.

The Chateaubriand was excellent…do you sell swim trunks?

The Quarter

And of course the French Quarter got me again after all. From oysters to architecture to random jazz bands to a Legs and Eggs brunch, and Brennan’s in there somewhere, it’s easy to find a new appreciation for the Vieux Carré, especially after visiting its surroundings.

“There are only three great cities in the United States: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.” –Tennessee Williams (and others)


It’s All Interim

Posted on November 12, 2017


I switched jobs this month, and alongside a few gracious comments as I transitioned, I experienced a sort of bewilderment that such a dramatic change could occur. It was almost as if leaving a decent role was unfathomable. The I could never leave mindset dominates. But you will leave as well, either by choice or by circumstance. Eventually for an advancement, through a termination, to a retirement, or on a stretcher, you’ll be out the door, and others, in some way, will pick up what you’ve left behind. We should all be mindful of temporality and inevitability in a role, with what we own, and in life. It’s all interim.

“You can die tomorrow…who is going to take care of all this crap!” –Margareta Magnusson