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Opera for a Small Room,  Mixed-media installation

Opera for a Small Room, 2005. Mixed-media installation with sound, record players, records, and synchronized lighting

Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller met in college, and, over time, their individual practices developed into a collaboration in which each artist feeds off the thoughts and ideas of the other. At the heart of their practice lies a belief in the ability of sound to transport participants to alternate realities. Audio and video walks that respond to particular locations and indoor installations—situated at the intersection of cinema, theater, radio, literature, and sculpture—immerse viewers in transformative scenarios that range through time and space, using fictional narrative and sound effects to question sensory experience.

Rebecca Dimling Cochran: What kind of research do you do in preparation for your site-specific pieces?
Janet Cardiff: Most of the site works are either video or audio walks, so first we go to the location and wander around. We might also read some books about the area or by local writers to get a feel for it. It’s almost like method acting—I read a lot about the location, but not much comes back into the work. It’s mainly to get a feeling for the situation, although sometimes a little story will find its way into the script.

RDC: Storytelling is an integral part of your work. How does the narrative develop?
JC: The narrative comes out by writing scripts that go nowhere. Sometimes I print it all out, lay it on the table, cut it up, and move it around so the thoughts connect to each other. There’s usually a theme, and the idea is for a participant to follow my voice around to experience what the character in the audio narrative experienced. Münster Walk (1997), for instance, was about a friend of mine who had lost her son, and participants walked in the son’s footsteps.

George Bures Miller: We always have rough ideas, and when we start editing, we add more dialogue if we need it or take it away if we don’t. It’s not like we’re making a movie—we can change things all the time. We can run out with a little crew and be on set and shooting in a day if we have a new idea. The same with the sound. If we need a new line, we just record it that day and put it in and see if it works.

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