Magazine article Artforum International

Sculpturecenter. (Reviews)

Magazine article Artforum International

Sculpturecenter. (Reviews)

Article excerpt

NINA KATCHADOURIAN

Nina Katchadourian was hiking last year in Trinidad when she heard a naggingly familiar sound. It was, she knew, a birdcall, shrill and intermittent, patterned by the deep urges of instinct. But it sounded just like a car alarm. Thus was born her Natural Car Alarms, 2002, sponsored by SculptureCenter and migrating through the streets of Long Island City until the center opens its new building there in November.

Katchadourian approached ornithologists from the Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at Cornell University, who were intrigued by her idea of matching the timbre and sequencing of urban Klaxons to the cries of the aviary. From the initial sampling they provided of thirty-three birdcalls, Katchadourian selected eighteen; six of these unique sounds were mixed into cycles for each of three alarms. With assistance from the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University, Katchadourian constructed the actual alarm devices and installed them in a minifleet of three cars parked on the street and distinguishable only via bright yellow windshield decals of diversely shaped birds and bumper stickers that read THIS CAR PROTECTED BY NATURAL CAR ALARMS. When something sets off the alarms, spectators peer into the trees to locate birds they imagine are lurking there, and passing dogs strain to suss out this robotic-sounding prey. Katchadourian has calibrated her recordings to the double-take point where their rhythms replicate the artificial tweets, shrieks, and dying falls of normal alarms but retain a depth that betrays them as the voices of living beings.

Found sound and tacit modes of communication are recurring interests for Katchadourian, as are the junctures where human invention overlaps organic productivity. Previously she has "repaired" torn spiderwebs by darning them with red thread and has built a machine that translates the sound of popping corn into Morse code. …

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