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Chairs arranged in a circle facing a speaker
Chairs arranged in a circle facing a speaker

Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, The Murder of Crows, Park Avenue Armory, New York, NY

In the vast, dark Park Avenue Armory drill hall, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller have arranged 98 speakers, each with its own soundtrack, for The Murder of Crows. Cardiff’s voice recounts her dreams from an old-fashioned speaker horn, which rests on a table in the center of the room. As the sound varies in source and echoes, it takes on a strange physicality.

PAUL DAVID YOUNG Could you tell me about your relationship to theater, because there’s definitely a theatrical element to your work, in its use of space and sound, the relationship of the spectator to the work and the direct references to theater?  I’m thinking of Playhouse [1997], in which spectators put on a headset and sat in a miniaturized theater.

GEORGE BURES MILLER In a way I felt The Murder of Crows [2008] was moving away from the theatrical. It is theatrical, but we’d just done a few pieces that were even more theatrical, say, The Killing Machine [1997] or Opera for a Small Room [2005]. We used computerized lighting to move as the sound moved around the space among different speakers. With Playhouse we were thinking of a more simplified piece.

JANET CARDIFF We just finished a video walk in Kassel [Forest (for a thousand years), for dOCUMENTA (13)].  You’re watching a variety of actions happen in different places as you move through the forest, listening to the sounds.

MILLER We’re frustrated with theater. In theater, there’s always a line between you and the stage.  We’re trying to immerse the audience in some way. With sound, when the viewers close their eyes, they can be in a different world than they can be in the theater.

YOUNG The Murder of Crows seems to take a different relationship to the audience than the audio walks, for example, which are more directed, in terms of how they speak to the audience member or spectator, kind of controlling or directing the choices that are made.

CARDIFF Yes, and I think it takes a different relationship than, say, that of The Forty Part Motet [2001], which is a piece in a similar vein—hearing the individual singers from 40 speakers. The audience is not necessarily directed to sit down, but the whole concept is that when they move around it’s a different piece of music for everyone. With this piece we were more interested in the sound moving around the audience. They stay mainly in the sweet spot, we call it, and then we have the sound moving from one end of the space to the other.

YOUNG I found it disturbing that there were chairs in the environment, because my instinct was to walk around.

MILLER If we’re asking the audience to stay for 30 minutes in the same spot, we’re not against providing some comfort for them.

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