‘World According to Sound’ creators to be artists in residence

Chris Hoff ’02 and Sam Harnett, co-creators of the 90-second public radio show and podcast, “The World According to Sound,” will be artists in residence this fall as part of Cornell’s multidisciplinary Media Studies Initiative.

In advance of their residency, Hoff and Harnett will give an audio presentation May 1 at 8 p.m. in Rhodes-Rawlings Auditorium, Klarman Hall. The event is free and open to the public.

“Chris Hoff and Sam Harnett are working with sound in an innovative way, communicating directly with sound instead of using it to ‘illustrate’ a text,” said Jeremy Braddock, associate professor of English and chair of the Media Studies Initiative. “The residency will further establish Cornell at the forefront of the interdisciplinary field of sound studies.”

For the May 1 performance, Hoff and Harnett will use an eight-speaker Meyer Sound system placed around the audience, creating a surround-sound effect.

“It’s a powerful speaker array with some substantial subwoofers,“ Harnett said. “It’ll be ‘War of the Worlds’ like you’ve never heard it before.”

The audience will wear eye masks so that they can experience the evening immersed in sound, with auditory-only cues. The show will include: a musical performance by a washing machine; a sonorous tennis match; a disturbing howl Marco Polo heard centuries ago while crossing the Gobi Desert; and a simulation of the acoustic signature of the Hagia Sophia.

 It may also include Hoff and Harnett’s recent work with the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, an exploration of California from the acoustic perspective of the blind.

Chris Hoff interviewing a dog

Chris Hoff '02 interviewing a dog

During their residency, Hoff and Harnett will collaborate with Cornell faculty and students and host listening events for the community at large. They will introduce students and faculty to different recording and mixing techniques they’ve developed while working on their new radio series and live show.

Hoff said he is looking forward to collaborating with those who incorporate sound into their work, or whose work is sound-based to begin with, and exploring ways of presenting the work that draws more on the experiential than the rational.

“I think the sense of hearing in particular can get at this, mainly because outside of listening to music it just seems largely ignored,” Hoff said. “By focusing on a sense that a lot of people are not in touch with, there’s fertile ground for opening the mind up to new ways of accessing and processing information.”

Hoff and Harnett will also produce a series of audio lectures drawn from the unique collections across the university and based on the work of Cornell faculty and students. Subjects will include recordings made at the Lab of Ornithology, sound and music collections held at Olin Library, the Historic Keyboards and Moog collections, and sound-based research from within the sciences. These audio lectures will be available online for listening.

“We look forward to bringing sounds from all over the world to the ears of Ithaca, and the sounds from Cornell to the ears of listeners all around the world,” Harnett said. “We hope our residency can help expand on the growing excitement around sound that is percolating in Cornell.”

Residency sponsors include the Media Studies Initiative, the Society for the Humanities, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Milstein Program in Technology and Humanity, the Faculty of Computing and Information Science and Cornell University Library.

The Media Studies Initiative is a collaborative project that brings together faculty and students from the Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Agriculture and Life Sciences; Architecture, Art and Planning; and the Faculty of Computing and Information Science.

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