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Sound Maps: Art Interpretation through Sounds

By Eric Behm, Graduate student, University at Buffalo:

Artists can develop different sources of inspiration into their works of art which then can bring different interpretations of these works to the art viewer. These inspirations in creating art pieces can come from ones internal feelings or it can derive from something external such as the physical environment around them. However, there is another source of inspiration artist Kamau Patton derives his inspiration from and that entails the many types of sounds that are known to mankind. These can include sounds of the natural environment (forests, oceans, wild animals) or the urban environment (automobiles, trains, footsteps). I had the opportunity to create my own works of art based on this source of inspiration in the form of sound maps. Patton, a New York artist that uses sound, light, and electronics in developing his works of art, taught a workshop at Mutual Riverfront Park this past September on how to create sound maps. This workshop was among the various installations and events that took place in the city of Buffalo for the “My Future Ex” exhibition series, curated by Tra Bouscaren and Sandra Firmin of the University of Buffalo Art Galleries.

Kamau-Patton-Buffalo-NY-2The sound mapping workshop allowed me and the other participants in the class to create our own individual works of art based on random sound recording pieces Patton played for us on his computer. We were given large sheets of white, sketching paper and three pencils of different sizes to draw up our sound sketches. Kamau would take us through the process of making them in which he would play a five minute recording of random sounds and our job is to “draw what we hear.” The interesting part is that each individual person in the class interpreted these sounds differently making each sound map unique. At the end of the recording, the other participants and I discussed what we drew and the sounds we heard that compelled us to sketch out these drawings. Then, we would each take a moment to look at each other’s sound maps in order to witness the many interpretations that manifested from the sound recording. We then repeated the process with 5-6 additional sound recordings. Toward the end of the workshop, Kamau wanted us to walk outside for a few minutes to document the sounds we were hearing outside. Some sounds I was able to hear were moving traffic, birds, rain, and a siren from a distance. The purpose of this exercise was to sketch a sound map based on sounds we are hearing in the park.

My experience at the workshop was a fun, informative, and worthwhile one. I am no artist by any means but I learned how art can be created by the sounds you here in everyday life. For those of you future artists and art enthusiasts, I encourage you to create your own sound maps. Simply supply yourself with some pencils and sketching paper and go to a park or some other area outdoors and draw what sounds you hear. Take a picture of your own sound maps and submit them to this blog by emailing me:

Sound Maps: Art Interpretation through Sounds was held in conjunction with the “My Future Ex” exhibition series.


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Buffalo Rising

Sometimes the authors at Buffalo Rising work on collaborative efforts in order to cover various events and stories. These posts can not be attributed to one single author, as it is a combined effort. Often times a formation of a post gets started by one writer and passed along to one or more writers before completion. At times there are author attributions at the end of one of these posts. Other times, “Buffalo Rising” is simply offered up as the creator of the article. In either case, the writing is original to Buffalo Rising.

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