Category: Sound Installation

2022 – Ongoing | Liquid Architectures and Leaky Territories

Photo of 3d-printed printer used to make these prints.

Liquid Architectures and Leaky Territories first showing at UVM’s Francis Colburn Gallery.
Exhibition Question Box results, so many questions!

2010 | Champlain Sound and Color

In 2010, using Maurice Benayoun’s Art Collider, Karson and Photographer Matt Larson sent digital images and sounds from Vermont’s Lake Champlain Waterfront to a live streaming exhibition at La Bellevilloise Gallery in Paris, France. Artists from Montreal, Canada; Paris, France; San Francisco, California; New York, New York, and Linz, Austria participated in the live event.

Champlain Sound Stream, Jenn Karson, 2010
Champlain Color Stream, Matt Larson, 2010.
Champlain Sound and Color Stream projected at La Bellevilloise Gallery in Paris, France. The images and sounds were streamed live from Vermont’s Lake Champlain Waterfront through Maurice Benayoun’s ArtCollider.

2015 | The Picture Was an Outrage

The Picture Was an Outrage was 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

The Picture Was an Outrage

The Picture Was an Outrage, is heard…by viewers as they stand before a life-size projection of Demoiselles. This recording was made in collaboration with members of the UVM and Burlington arts communities, an extension of Karson’s own socially engaged art practices. What emerges as subject matter in this piece is the active role that conversation plays in the development of an artist’s ideas, as well as evaluation of the artist’s later impact. Staging the voices of seven members from Picasso’s inner circle, this sound installation presents snippets of personal responses to Demoiselles when it was first seen, in his studio in 1907. We hear the documented words of Picasso’s contemporaries such as Matisse, Georges Braque, Andre Derain and Alice Derain; writers and critics Gertrude Stein and Gelett Burgess; as well as the art dealer David-Henry Kahnweiler. The overwhelmingly negative sentiments captured by this sound installation point to the general consensus that Picasso may have gone mad while creating the work, which was initially deemed by his colleagues as a horrendous affront to painting.

The Picture Was an Outrage takes its power by representing a plausible moment of failure for Picasso. The harsh comments captured from over a century ago have a haunting effect, as the very first observations of this painting are reawakened. Criticism bounces through the room on a hypersonic speaker, which carries a strong psychological presence. The experience of sound feels almost as if it emerged from the viewer’s subconscious. Building a new dimension of physicality into our collective experience of Demoiselles, Karson casts a spell. She confronts Picasso’s greatest moment of vulnerability using staged role-play. Upon hearing the voices, one cannot help but reflect on the insults launched at contemporary artists who have arrived at ideas that are not accepted within the art world today.

Laura Blereau
From the exhibition catalog Staring Back, On Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon

(In order of appearance)

Alice Derain, Georges Braque…………………………………………………….Alison Nobile Class of 2015

Matisse communicated by Roland Penrose……..………………………..DJ Hellerman, Curator, Burlington City Arts

Gelett Burgess…………………………………………………………………………Major Jackson, Professor, Department of English

Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler……………………..…………………………………..David V. Rosowsky, Provost and Vice President

Gertrude Stein…………………………………………………………………………Barbara Zucker, Professor Emeritus, Dept. of Art

André Derain……………………………………………………………………………Angela Patton, Senior Lecturer, Department of English

2014 | Your Attention Please! Ignore This Message

“Continuity seems lacking in a wold full of separately conceived physical entities all competing for space and attention, all without concern for what is nearby, and masked by portals, links, and signs to someplace else.”

Malcolm McCullough, Ambient Commons

Your Attention Please! Ignore this Message is a reflection on how our sensory field often refers to someplace else; it considers the role of sounds, particularly cell phone sounds, in the ambient commons.

In 2014, smartphone sound notifications often always sounded the same, depending on the make of your phone. We commonly asked each other, “Is that you or me?” when we could not decipher whose cell phone was ringing. Messages not intended for us demanded our attention. 

Cell Phone “bells” played intermittently during the exhibition Break It! Build it!
The public was invited to call in from outside locations and make the cellphone ring in the gallery.
A summary of the bell and chime sounds found
on an iPhone in 2014.

Exhibited as part of Break It! Build It!
Curated by DJ Hellerman
Burlington City Arts Gallery, July 25, 2014 – September 13, 2014

2013 | The Firehouse Bell Project

The Firehouse Bell Project was included
in the exhibition User Required at Burlington City Arts Center,
Burlington, VT, 2013. Curated by DJ Hellerman.

The Firehouse Bell Tower

The Firehouse Bell Project posed two questions:

Should the Firehouse Bell ring again?

If so, why should it ring?

464 Votes = Yes | 68 Votes = No

Selected Participant Responses:

It should ring according to the moon cycle.

Ring the bell on the morning of a voting day as a reminder to vote!

When there is an art opening, ring the bell.

The bell should ring every time someone gives any amount of money to the homeless.

Ring the bell every time an animal is adopted from the Chittenden County Humane Society.

Have water mist around the bell and ring it when the sun is in position to make a rainbow.

It should warn if zombies attack, have regular Zombie drills (Once a month @ random).

It should ring again so that people do not forget what a real bell sounds like.

It should be replaced with a bubble machine.

Just ring the damn bell!

The Firehouse Bell Project was at the Burlington City Arts Center in Burlington, VT in the spring of 2013
and as part of the exhibit User Required curated by DJ Hellerman.

464 = Yes 68 = No

2008 – 2009 |The San Francisco Foghorns are Public Art

Public art presupposes the public sphere and produces a public in relation to that concept. Unlike popular or mass art, it does not assume a preexistent generic audience to be entertained or instructed but sets out to forge a specific public by means of an aesthetic interaction.

Hilde Hein, Thinking Museums Differently

The foghorns of San Francisco have become more public art than necessary navigational technology. Public outcry and controversy when the foghorn sounds change (usually due to technological advancements) is well documented through newspaper articles and letters to the editor. A public is attached to their sound, a public shares the experience of their sound, and a public lives with their sound. While the sound of the foghorns is ethereal and formless, the sound of the foghorns has as much of a place in the public imagination as the city’s public sculpture and built architecture. As Hilde Hein describes in Thinking Museums Differently, the sounds of the foghorns forge a specific public by means of an aesthetic interaction.

San Francisco Foghorns, Outer Richmond, August 29, 2007
San Francisco Foghorns, Outer Richmond, September 5, 2007
San Francisco Foghorns, Outer Richmond, September 27, 2007
Two-Tone Foghorn, from the archive of Colin MacKenzie.
Believed to be the original foghorn sound of Lightship LV 605.
Recorded c. 1985

Two Public Controversies


“San Francisco without foghorns? No way. That would be like Chicago without wind, or New York without the Statue of Liberty.”

Omaha World Herald, Nebraska, December 12 1992

“The mournful bellow of the foghorn, as much a part of San Francisco lore as cable cars and sourdough bread, faded into history yesterday as Coast Guard technicians unceremoniously replaced the last of the signals that warned mariners of the rocky cliffs of Alcatraz. In it’s place they installed a gizmo that produces a high pitched electronic beep that is about as romantic as a telephone dial tone. The switch may be enough to make Jack London spin in his grave, but such is the price of progress. foghorns are long on ambience and short on usefulness in a high-tech world, Coast Guard navigators said.”

San Francisco Chronicle, November 3, 1992

“I for one, thank God that those annoying, incessant foghorns are soon to be gone forever. When will society realize that noise pollution is every bit as harmful as any other kind of pollution? I’ve hated them ever since I moved here 16 years ago. They remind me of my days back on the farm: that’s exactly what a cow sounds like when giving birth. A more ghastly sound I cannot imagine.”

San Francisco Chronicle Nov 16, 1992

“Beep Beep, go the newfangled fog warning gadgets the Coast Guard installed on San Francisco Bay. Nuts, say traditionalists who want a return to the old foghorns that moaned through the mist.”

Associated Press. Las Vegas Review – Journal. Las Vegas, Nev.: Nov 13, 1992

1913 – 1915

“… Petitions are being daily received from San Francisco by Kahn which state that the weird shrieks of the siren still make night hideous for miles around the island, and there has been no indication of throttling the monster.”

San Francisco Chronicle, August 6, 1913

“The trouble with the North Beach people is that they submit too readily to the imposition of the Bureau of Lighthouses. Those who are interested in the welfare of those who go to the sea in ships and those who are sick and suffering ashore, let them make the loudest and most forcible kind of protest against the unnecessary howling sirens, which are destroying people and property afloat and ashore.”

North Beach Mariner
San Francisco Chronicle, April 9, 1915

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.

2010 | Sounds of a Stone Home

Sounds of a Stone Home
Site-Specific Sound Installation, 2010

Sounds of Stone Home
was a site-specific sound installationthat explored the comings and goings of the creatures, people and things who have inhabited the stonequarries at Millstone Hill in Barre Town, Vermont.

Installation signage

Installed as part of the group exhibition On the Planet
On location at the stone quarries at Millstone Hill in Barre Town, Vermont.

Presented by Studio Place Arts.
Wednesday, September 1, 2010: 5:00 – 6:30 pm
Sunday, September 5, 2010: 3:00 – 5:30 pm

2008 |1500 Waters

The sound installation 1500 Waters was created for the group show Expanding in the Thomas Welton Stanford Art Gallery on the Stanford University campus.

1500 Waters is a study of abundance and scarcity. The project set out to document 1500 instances of water during the Summer of 2008. The recordings started in California on the Stanford campus during a time of forest fires and drought. That same summer recording continued in Vermont, a part of the country that was experiencing unusually heavy precipitation, some flooding and frequent thunderstorms.

The sound installation of 1500 Waters in the Thomas Welton Stanford Art Gallery projected sound through highly directional speakers; the sound reflected off high ceilings and around the room providing a wash of sound from multiple directions. Sensors on the floor triggered additional sound layers. The sonic experience of the installation was responsive to the movements and positions of gallery visitors, allowing for spontaneous compositions.

2016-2018 | Calls From The Dark

Calls from the Dark is a sound installation that explores the intoxicated longings of animals and machines; it was created to be played outside at night at the edge of the woods. Originally installed for the Illuminated Forest at Shelburne Farms in Shelburne, Vermont.

Orb Song 3, 2018.

Orb Song 2, 2018.

Orb Song 1, 2018.