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This Friday, June 24, the major summer exhibition O'Keeffe, Stettheimer, Torr, Zorach: Women Modernists in New York opens at the PMA. To commemorate the opening, during Free Friday we're hosting a PMA360 titled "Exploring Modernism Through Sound" from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. One challenge that fascinated many modernist artists—including Helen Torr, whose work is on view in the exhibition—was using the medium of painting to depict sound. This PMA360 event explores this concept in interactive ways, using numerous guests, including friends from the Portland Symphony Orchestra.
One guest is multidisciplinary artist Sam Richardson (pictured), who has created an app just for the event. At two multimedia stations throughout the exhibition, visitors will be able to create and share a customized soundscape for other guests. Sam, who graduated from MECA with a BFA in New Media in 2015, spoke with me about himself and this project.
How did the project come about?
The PMA contacted me last month through George LaRou, the Chair of New Media at Maine College of Art. They were looking for a sound designer to create an interactive audio component for these modernist paintings. I was really excited for the opportunity to apply my skill with audio and software, and to be associated with this exhibition, so of course I jumped on board. Before our first meeting I had come up with a few ideas for a more passive, spatially-aware installation involving multiple speakers connected to sensors, but we decided to focus instead on letting visitors arrange their own compositions in response to the work on display.
How do you describe the app?
The whole idea is to make the act of creating a digital soundscape accessible and engaging to anybody: a single button to play each sound and some effects that can be applied to make it your own thing. I want people to be able to feel out which sounds work together, in order to support their interpretation of the paintings. The sounds themselves are simple loops of instruments and incidental sounds that I recorded. So you have the basic building blocks and the tools to work with them, and my hope is for people to save their mixes to share later.
Why you think it’s interesting to do this kind of program at the PMA?
I think it’s very important to expose people to different ways of interacting with art. I’m a fan of anything that gets people to engage with art more deeply, especially when it allows them to express themselves creatively. Instead of being just an audience for the paintings, they become active participants. It lets them feel a closer connection to the artists and get a taste of what it’s like to create this work. Maybe it can inspire them to get into painting or sound design or programming themselves, which would be incredible. I want everyone to be able to do stuff like this.
How did you become interested in interactive projects, and where would you like to go with them?
I’ve always been interested in technology, but it was at Sarah Lawrence about six years ago that I first started learning to program and integrating it into my art. It opened up a new way to think about interactivity and user experience, and it allowed pieces to grow as they are displayed. I think that, as a creator, relinquishing some control to a participant or a computer gives me more freedom to explore an organic environment. Going forward, I’m hoping to be able to work with more people and organizations to help integrate new media techniques into their projects. I’m always looking for opportunities to display my own work too, whether in new ways on the website I’m developing or in more traditional settings like galleries.
Marcie’s experience with nonprofits began ten years ago, working for Portland's Convention and Visitors Bureau. Since then, she has worked for schools in San Francisco and SPACE Gallery and at the Maine Women's Fund in Portland. A Yarmouth resident, Marcie spends her time exploring Maine with her husband, two young sons and ridiculous labradoodle, Hazel.