Creative storytelling and recording for the new SFMOMA

The much anticipated re-opening of the new SFMOMA marks the debut of some very special and very unique audio content.  We’ve forayed out of the art world and into the local Bay Area to find a surprising cast of “characters” – including a magician, a junk collector, a poet, a pagan minister, and a dancer – to offer new perspectives and connect with the city’s eclectic culture. This week, we share some of the more unique stories of tracking down and recording these interviews.

Rockclimbing wall

Ashleyanne Krigbaum, Producer and sound designer for various SFMOMA audio stops has been working on community radio for the past eight years.  

Ashleyanne on 'Lilith' by Kiki Smith (1994, bronze and glass)

Audio is courtesy of the SFMOMA. © 2016 San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

"We did rapid-fire brainstorming as a group for each artwork about how to engage the listener for the full 60 seconds.  For Lilith, we asked what does she sees with her intense gaze? How could we recreate that? We found an aerial dancer and went to a rock climbing gym that let us set the dancer up, upside-down!  We wanted visitors to the museum to know, as they listened to the audio, that they were no longer in the museum space.  They would first hear the sounds of a rock climbing gym – the clicking of a harness, the sound of hoisting someone up into the air.  The audio is designed to have curiosity for the listener and in less than ten seconds, understand that they are hearing from someone upside down. I recorded new sounds – the metal clips the team preparing to climb – and the interview.  The dancer mimicked the position and I asked, when you’re upside down, is there more power? Are you embodying the woodland creature that is Lilith? What does it feel like? Is your heart racing?  I recorded her for half an hour to make the 60 second stop, which most people wouldn’t guess it would take that long.  I took her interview and cut it into elements and fit them together - I had to think about the production the whole time and keep in mind how the experience for the visitor in the museum."

Ashleyanne on 'Coconino' by John Chamberlain (1969, painted and chromium-plated steel)

"Working at the dump was fantastic! We were in the sorting facility and they were very accommodating and happy to have us while we recorded Jenny Odell, who had a unique perspective.  She has a residency at the dump and she scavenges every day looking for objects - so she is the main voice. I asked how she finds value in trash? The audio is also rich with the sound of the dump’s operations.  While we had ideas for the sound, it’s just like a dump - you don't know sound you're going to find.  We wouldn’t stage anything so we waited for the forklift.  Everything we did was to shock the listener, it definitely shocks.  It all gives a new perspective of art.  And we got to wear hardhats!"

Ashleyanne on 'Overview of boxes and collages' by Joseph Cornell (1933 -1965, wooden boxes containing painted wood, nails, glass, and mirror)
"I grew up in the Bay Area, so SFMOMA has been in my life since middle school when I used to ditch school just to go there.  And this artwork was the one that was “mine”.  It’s a pink Victorian mansion layered in a small box; it's just like a snow globe with a little world.  When we had our brainstorming session, I claimed it to work with – it spoke to me. I went to a studio where a set designer, Erik Flatmo, works on models for theater in models and miniatures, which related so well to Joseph Cornell.  I was able to engage Erik about what goes on in a shadow box and get the set design artist perspective.  There are correlations about the artwork structure – especially arches which can change an entire perspective, they tell a story in theater and set design.  And both work with boxes – boxes of materials and boxes for making their art."

David Boyer, sound designer for SFMOMA audio stops, is the producer for The Intersection podcast.

David on 'Three Men' by Romare Bearden (1966-67, printed and painted papers, watercolor, and graphite on canvas)
"Creating audio for a collage is trying to mirror the different media the artist works from.  What would this piece be if it was sound? There are bits and variety, cuts, and echoes in some places, scissors ripping and tearing, and the sounds of how he created a collage.  There is a lot of juxtaposition in both the collage and the audio we created.  The archival audio of the artist talking and the sound effects are evocative of the visual aspect. We are creating a sound collage in two minutes. I'm used to doing longer pieces so the ability of creating something shorter is different.  You have to give the museum visitors a new experience because information alone isn't as engaging."

David on 'Objet Surréaliste à fonctionnement symbolique—le soulier de Gala (Surrealist object that functions symbolically—Gala’s Shoe)' by Salvador Dali (1931-1975, mixed media)
"It’s a sensual piece about Dali’s love for a woman and we had to make it appropriate for a museum.  The work itself is a sculpture – but it’s also sort of like a collage.  There are photos, and sugar, and shoes – all of these items that we needed to bring to life.   So we have sound effects – moaning, matches, a voice saying Dali’s nickname for his lover over and over.  I’m familiar with Dali and I have a sense of who he was.  Producing sound for a sculpture was an interesting experience.  I had to rely on the curators and writers to explain Dali’s intentions, so this was collaboration.  In the end, we created an experience where the visitor is transported."

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