Philadelphia Adds Soundtracks to its Public Sculptures

Four musicians, four pieces of city art, four ultra-weird musical compositions.

Image
Kevin Dooley/Flickr

When composing the "Ring Cycle," Wagner was galvanized by the epic gods and warriors of Norse mythology. Beethoven's "Ninth" was a response to the composer's overwhelming sense of joy, whereas Elton John's "Candle in the Wind" was a melancholy homage to Marilyn Monroe's death.

For her musical work "Connections," Philadelphia musician Rosie Langabeer found a slightly less-awesome inspiration: a big ol' plant bed, plopped down between 18th and 19th streets just south of Spring Garden. Here it is:

(Atspear/Wikipedia)

Langabeer created her vegetal opus, which you can listen to below, as part of the Philadelphia's Redevelopment Authority's "Sound Sculptures" project. The city commissioned four artists to write soundtracks to four public sculptures; Langabeer wound up with Athena Tacha's meticulously hedged plot of land art. It's a rather manilla pairing for a musician who plays in a "crazy award-winning band called ZIRKUS, featuring many of [New Zealand’s] top jazz musicians and a suspiciously humanoid barking dog," according to Langabeer's bio. But she somehow makes it work in a pleasant, droning kind of way, tossing into the mix some horn doodling and what sounds like Tuvan throat singers.

Anybody with a smartphone with time to kill can enjoy these sculptural acoustics, produced by the experimental-art nonprofit Bowerbird. By scanning a QR code near the artworks they'll be routed to a music file that can be added to a track list. Why would they do that? To believe the organizers, these offbeat tunes allow listeners to "explore the ‘living landscape’ of each project's site, bringing a new perspective to the contextual and artistic intensions of the original work."

Next up for Philly: making songs to go along with its infamous murals. I'd really love to know what music should accompany a grown man eating a baby sandwich.

Here are the compositions, beginning with Langabeer's "Connections." She imagined an alternate reality existing in the middle of the 1992-era plant bed, and penned this piece to transport us there:

King Britt composed "Copper Speaks to Flesh," a melange of electronically diced voices speaking over a background of Tom Waits-style factory thumping. It accompanies Jim Sanborn's "Ars Medendi" on the campus of Thomas Jefferson University:

Pattie McCarthy did a spoken-word piece on Claes Oldenburg's pumped-up "Clothespin." "I've always loved the clothespin, how it was met at first with ridicule but now it's beloved," she says. "With an almost totemic quality, it's now an image of Philadelphia." When she went to City Hall to look at the immense laundry-hanger for inspiration, she stumbled upon a "possible drug deal":

And James Plotkin got matched with Dennis Oppenheim's "Waveforms" at 34th and Chestnut, itself loosely modeled after the pattern of sound waves:

Top image by Kevin Dooley on Flickr.

About the Author