A little while ago, Bluemouth associate artist Daniel Pettrow was invited by the French Institute Alliance Française (FIAF) to stage the first English reading of French novelist Marie Darrieussecq’s play Le Musée de la mer [THE SEA’S MUSEUM] during its annual Crossing the Line Festival of inter-disciplinary contemporary arts, presented this month in New York City. Daniel subsequently recruited Bluemouth Inc to help realize this staging in – of all places – the abandoned subway tunnel at the intersection of Atlantic and Court Ave in downtown Brooklyn. Thanks to Dan and FIAF, I was able to fly down to NYC last friday morning and help prepare the sound design for the play’s readings on saturday and sunday afternoon.
Although New York designer Omar Zubair and I had already generated a nice collection of sonic gestures and textures over the past few months (including a generous donation of Icelandic soundscape recordings by Toronto poet Angela Rawlings) , the incredibly focused acoustics of this half-mile long tunnel steered us in a more austere direction. As over 70 people descended the ladder one at a time from street level down into the tunnel, I mashed up vintage Hawaiian music with the soundtracks of Jean Painlevé’s early aquatic documentaries. A large video projection of Jean Painlevé’s films spanned the tunnel’s curved brick ceiling and enveloped the waiting audience.
With the actors leading the audience by flashlight, the play unfolds down the entire length of the tunnel. Long, deep and slow moving wedges of sound slowly rise and follow the audience as they move towards a dead end. In setting and adjusting sound levels I would leave the mixer station and walk halfway down the tunnel, only to discover that volume level of the music was not changing at all. Higher frequency content would naturally disappear with distance, leaving only a juggernaut of low end to continue soaring down through the tunnel. Speaking and Ciara Adam’s singing at one end of the tunnel were clearly audible at the other end. We hardly needed amplification at all.