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Voicing Art Opinions in the Round

Marc Sanchez

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Halsey Burgund shows how it's done
(Courtesy Halsey Burgund)
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At museums around the country this weekend, patrons will stop by a booth, pick up a pair of headphones, plug in and walk the halls listening to someone tell them about art.

Sound artist Halsey Burgund wanted to update the standard museum audio tour, so he dreamed up a project called "Round." Now you can hear people talking about the art, and you can leave your own opinions. Here's Halsey:

The physical part of "Round" which an individual will interact with consists of two parts: one part is the hand-held computer which looks a bit like an iPhone, in that it's about the size of an iPhone and it has a big touch screen on the front, and then the other part is the set of headphones. When a museum visitor wants to participate in "Round" they're given this device and they put on the headphones and they're presented with two choices, actually, on the touch screen. The first choice is "listen" and the second choice is "speak."

Instead of a one-way mode of communication where a participant is simply hearing audio as part of the instillation, "Round" actually accepts audio from the participants.

When you are speaking and adding a comment, you actually just speak in a normal voice, sort of in a general direction of the hand-held device, and your recording comments are picked up.

The audio that participants hear when listening to "Round" consists of two parts -- there's an instrumental part and there's a vocal part. Vocals are a combination of all of the comments that have been made. Those comments kind of fade in and fade out, and they are controlled by various randomizing logarithms that are built into the software.

For the instrumental part of the music, I wanted to retain that same idea, where there's something that isn't just repeating over and over again. There is a situation that is constantly evolving as more peoples' voices get added, the instrumental music actually changes up as well. To me it's very exciting, because I can listen to "Round" at any given time and hear something that I haven't heard before.

Some of the most amusing and interesting and often insightful comments are made by kids.

The social construct of the art critique and of these sort of authoritative figures is there, and it exists, and I think that these people do have very good ideas a lot of the time and they have very interesting opinions. But to me it's not fair for them to be the only people who have opinions that are heard. And one of the reasons this piece is called "Round" is a reference to King Arthur's Round Table, where there's all the knights gathered together and they sit there at this round table that basically means that no one person is sort of afforded a specialized opinion -- you know, everybody is equal and everybody's voice can be heard.

To me, it's just really interesting to create a scenario where people can do whatever they want and just seeing what happens.


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    By Seth Wittner

    From Henderson, NV, 06/28/2008

    As someone who used to make a living in music preparation for TV, movies and concerts, I've worked with some of the most talented composers and arrangers anywhere. I've noticed that public radio seems to have no defense against musical imposters who talk a great game and need publicity while lacking any real musical creativity or skill. Mr. Burgund's simple idea of recording the public's reaction to art was fine by itself. But having a few notes play in a kaleidoscopic way under talk is nothing worthy of national exposure--even if Mr. Burgund finds it highly exciting. To put it as civilly as possible, I would encourage Weekend America to seek out more technically accomplished, adventurous and deserving composers and songwriters and resist the emperors with no clothes. Bring on the truly innovative, but keep your guard up against silver-tongued self-promoters whose main skill is selling.

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