Category: Scoring

2009 | Power + Ground, 2009

Power and Ground explored methods of mapping, scoring and recording sounds of natures and cultures in San Francisco. Approximately 50 sites in the city were recorded while considering constellations of humans, machines, animals, the elements and money.

…Gradually or suddenly, one sees that humanity and nature, not separate, are in this world together.

John Cage, Silence

To know an animal or plant, or any terrestrial thing whatever, is to gather together the whole dense layer of signs with which it or they may have been covered; it is to rediscover also all the constellations of forms from which they derive their value as heraldic signs.

Michael Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences
Power and Ground Scores (1/5). 2009.

Exhibitions:

  • Audible Observations, Ethnographic Terminalia, San Francisco, California, 2012
  • Marin Country Day School, California, 2010
  • The Mission Arts & Performance Project, Rosie’s Cheeks Garage, San Francisco, 2009
  • Vernissage, Fort Mason, San Francisco, 2009

2010 | Scoring the Streets of New Orleans

On New Year’s Eve 2004 I recorded while walking through the French Quarter and down Bourbon Street. The recording captured street music, music from bars and restaurants, and the boisterous crowds. The evening was welcoming in a year no one could have anticipated; in August 2005 Hurricane Katrina had a devastating impact on city of New Orleans, the surrounding region and those who lived there. It was a tragedy for the country as a whole.

For the exhibition Ethnographic Terminalia New Orleans I revisited the 2004 recording, turning it into digital data (midi) and then feeding the analog recording back through it. The result is a composition of disparate audio fragments and unaligned time.

Scoring the Streets of New Orleans, 2010

Visual score of digital data, 2010

Fragments of song float from street corners and weave throughout
the open-air bars and restaurants that line Bourbon Street. For the
passerby, pieces of numerous songs are threaded into one melody.
Time signature is determined by the walker’s gate, notes by the chance
encounters with the sound events of the place, points on a map. 

Ethnographic Terminalia New Orleans

DuMois Gallery, New Orleans
November 11 – December 3, 2010

About Ethnographic Terminalia:

Crossing and erasing the boundaries between art and anthropology, the installations organized by the Ethnographic Terminalia curatorial collective evoke both the social instability and the sense of possibility embodied in the present historical moment. Constructing a bricolage of aesthetic and scientific viewpoints while instigating public art interventionsgrounded in critical social inquiry, this wide-ranging group of artists, anthropologists, and curators is creatinga series of mobile, transnational multimedia environments which are equally global and local, virtual, and site-specific.

Thomas Ross Miller, Ethnographic Termini: Of Moments and Metaphors, Visual Anthropology Review, 2011.

2015 | Place Ravignan and Picasso at Montmartre

Place Ravignan and Picasso at Montmartre were included in the exhibition
Staring Back: The Creation and Legacy of Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon. Curated by Janie Cohen and on view at the Fleming Museum of Art, Burlington, VT, February 3 – June 21, 2015

Place Ravignon + Picasso at Montmartre in the exhibition
Staring Back: The Creation and Legacy of Picasso’s Desmoiselles d’Avignon
Fleming Museum of Art.

Place Ravignan

Place Ravignan, 2015
Research for Place Ravignan. Photo credit: Chris Dissinger.

In the process of creating these works, Karson staged and produced recordings, and also captured existing sounds online, using sites such as Google, Sounddogs, Wikipedia, and You Tube. Her vision is achieved through a broad sense of perspective, and executed in a manner similar to movie directors working with actors, editors, and sound effects. Karson’s handling of sound is also influenced by the tradition of musique concrete, which relies on the apparatus of reproduction, as well as incorporating generative compositional techniques using live software playback.

Located at the exhibition’s entrance, Place Ravignan features an audio collage housed by a vintage Cygnet horn from the Edison Fireside Phonograph. Appearing worn and weathered, this sculpture plays with our expectations of early 20th-century artifacts and the simulated presence transmitted by an audio recording. The piece depicts the physical environment that birthed Cubism and served as home to a number of luminaries of the Modernist art and literary movements. It crafts a soundscape that evokes the surroundings of Le Bateau Lavoir, Picasso’s studio in 1907, where Les Demoiselles d’Avignon was painted.

Place Ravignan imagines a walk from Picasso’s studio through the bohemian neighborhood of Montmartre. The composition is named after a small cobblestone square that faces Le Bateau Lavoir and it maps out a narrative based on incidental noises, or “found” sounds. The building was known for its dark, drafty interior and creaky floorboards, so much so that it was nicknamed for the laundry boats anchored in the Seine. In Karson’s collage we hear the warm crackling of a coal stove, cries from Minou (Picasso’s cat), steps in the hallway, a knock at the door, and the bells of Sacre-Coeur Basilica. Trotting horses and the roar of early motorcars are detected, as we mentally travel past Le Chat Nair and famed cafes, filled with lively chatter. A distorted mix of Erik Satie’s music floats through the neighborhood, punctuated by the restless murmurs of pigeons. Clinking wine glasses and dishes are heard, while a crowd’s laughter and banter intensifies.

As a vessel, the sound sculpture evokes composers such as John Cage, Annea Lockwood, and Stephen Vitiello, as it transports viewers from an interior space, inside Picasso’s studio, to that of the public and outdoors-essentially a space of social engagement. Karson’s idea of place in this work is based on a virtual and idealized site that is informed by historical and contemporary research. In this process, she consulted Google maps, a 1900 edition of the travel book Baedeker’s Paris and its Environs, and Loving Picasso-the journal of Fernande Olivier. Picasso’s mistress between 1904 and1911, Olivier is a recognizable figure from his Blue Period, Rose Period, and African Period , as well as in his Cubist work.

Laura Blereau
From the exhibition catalog Staring Back, On Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon
Fleming Museum of Art, Burlington, VT

Jenn Karson and Coberlin Brownell, two Burlington-area tech gurus with backgrounds in art, engineered the technology for Staring Back. Karson focused on sound art while earning her MFA in design and technology at the San Francisco Art Institute; she now teaches in the University of Vermont’s engineering college. For the street soundscape, she researched turn-of-the-century Parisian guidebooks, among numerous sources, then layered sounds of cathedral bells, a passing horse and cart, a cooing dove, the clink of tableware, bits of French conversation and other clips. The whole is broadcast from behind a wall-mounted 1907 Edison phonograph horn, which Karson found for the exhibit.

Amy Lilly, Art New England, May/June 2015

Place Ravignon
Jenn Karson, 2015
Found sounds, foley, created with Max/MSP
Edison Horn, ca. 1907, collection of Jenn Karson and Ken Mills
Thanks to the University of Vermont Fab Lab

Picasso at Montmartre

Still from video “Picasso at Montmartre”

(3) Picasso at Montmartre

Picasso is seen here in the cobblestone square (Place Ravignan) just outside facing his studio, a few years before he would paint Les Demoiselles. The dilapidated studio building was known as the Bateau-Lavoir, or the washing boat, a name coined by Max Jacob, a writer and friend of the artist. Standing high on the hill of Montmartre, it swayed and creaked in high winds and rain, reminding its inhabitants of the laundry boats moored in the nearby River Seine.

Beside the horn, the tech gurus created a video installation. Brownell focused on augmented reality while earning his MFA in emergent media at Champlain College in Burlington, where he now teaches. The video begins with the iconic photo of a 23-year-old Picasso standing in the square outside the dilapidated Bateau-Lavoir, which housed his studio. Slowly, the image fades to a black-and-white video collage of Karson’s engineering student impersonating Picasso against the same background, smiling knowingly.

Like the hypersonic sound installation in the next room (The Picture Was an Outrage)—where the comments are read not by actors but by locally known curators, artists and other community members—the video component is intended to “make the piece really active for the campus and broader community,” says Karson. At the same time, the team wanted the immersion experience to “avoid nostalgia.” Karson adds, “The dissonance of having that student there…it’s so true. We’re bringing ourselves to that other time period, but we’re not there.”

Amy Lilly, Art New England, May/June 2015

Picasso at Montmartre
Video installation
Coberlin Brownell and Jenn Karson, 2015
Photo: Pablo Picasso at Montmartre, Place Ravignon, ca. 1904

Special thanks to Andrew Giroux ’15 and Alan Mosser of the UVM Theater Department.


Staring Back: The Creation and Legacy of Picasso’s Desmoiselles d’Avignon

February 3 – June 21, 2015
Fleming Museum of Art
University of Vermont, Burlington VT

2010 – 2017 | Sound and Listening Workshops

SubAmbient SoundLab
Mapping Found Sounds
Sounds of the Earth, Sea and Sky


SubAmbient SoundLab

SubAmbient Sound refers to sounds discovered through excavation, sounds found below the surfaces of things and places. What seemed solid and fixed is revealed as changing, resonant and alive. The SubAmbient Sound Workshop provides opportunities for participants to engage with new pathways of mapping places, memories and knowledge. Read more.

Presented at:
Toronto International Electroacoustic Symposium, Toronto,CA
Middlebury College, VT
Fleming Museum of Art, VT


Sub Ambient Sound Demo


Jenn Karson’s Sonic Mapping Workshop Explores Burlington

On Wednesday, April 15, and Saturday, April 18, Karson will teach others what she’s learned in a unique, two-part soundscape workshop at the Fleming Museum titled Mapping Found Sounds. It’s one part maker crash course, one part scavenger hunt and all conceptual art. The workshop will delve into a realm of sound art that Karson says takes its cue from avant-garde composers such as John Cage, who experimented with everyday ambient noises. (One of Cage’s best-known pieces is “4’33″” — named for the four minutes and 33 seconds in which the musicians are instructed not to play their instruments; the piece is the sounds of the audience and their surrounding environment.)

The result of “Mapping Found Sounds” will be a sonic map of the Burlington area. What will that sound like? Karson has no idea — she’s leaving that part up to the students. Certainly, though, participants shouldn’t expect to stand on street corners and record traffic noises.

Part 1 of Karson’s workshop will teach students how to repurpose the contact microphones in cellphones, computers, toys and other devices to make a simple listening instrument that can attach to headphones. The contact microphone changes the way a human ear hears a sound: The listener hears only the vibrational resonance of the sound waves, not the extra noise that might identify that resonance as, say, a door slamming or a car honking.

In Part 2, students will explore the Burlington area, placing their listening device on buildings, sidewalks, street lamps and elsewhere to “discover hidden sounds” in the area, as Karson puts it. “I want to have a reflection on Burlington that’s really new,” she says.

Read More

Xian Chiang-Waren, Seven Days Newspaper, 2015


Sounds of the Earth Sea and Sky

There are many ways to know a place…

Exploring Ring Mountain and Marin Country Day School (MCDS) Campus in Corte Madera, California was an opportunity for 7th and 4th graders to explore a place familiar to them with “fresh ears.”

Class 1: We began in the MCDS outdoor classroom on Ring Mountain. Students sat quietly and listened, recording what they heard through words and diagrams.

Class 2: Students created a unique symbol system to represent sounds of the earth, sea and sky. Reflecting on the data they collected in class 1, they plotted out their symbols to create sound maps.

Class 1
left: Sound maps and data sheets were exhibited together.
Right: class 2 (4th grade)
4th grade sound maps
7th grade sound maps

Melita Morales, 7th Grade Art Teacher, MCDS
Benny Sethi, 4th Grad Art Teacher, MCDS

More documentation about this program is available here.