Strange sounds in the air for the past two summers in this little neighborhood in Long Beach: digitized bird chirps, deep dinosaur groans and drones, and even a Doppler-wave dose of Antonin Artaud to break up the usual bus-brake hiss along Broadway for the one-of-a-kind SoundWalk experimental sound installation event. Long Beach art collective FLOOD (Shea M Gauer with noted locals Kamran Assadi, Frauke von der Horst, Scott A. Peterson, Shelley RuggThorp and Marco Schindelmann) set up the first SoundWalk in 2004 to introduce site-specific sound pieces (like Gauer and Assadi's synchronized auto symphony Car-tet) to a larger space and a wider audience. Now in its third year, the annual SoundWalk draws about a thousand people to four blocks in Long Beach's East Village to look at and listen to dozens of sound installations built directly into the environment—speakers in stairwells or hanging in trees or camped in local businesses. It's a gallery opening exploded into an entire neighborhood—a unique event, says Gauer, because of the way it superimposes a series of installations over a regular residential neighborhood.
"It's almost transforming the city," says artist Albert Ortega, a participant in every SoundWalk so far. "What situationists write about is what's happening on this night."
Plenty of sound artists worldwide set up multi-part openings in galleries (or the next best, unofficial warehouse spaces), but only SoundWalk wipes out the confines of the venue altogether, opting instead for the kind of flexible boundaries that fit a game of hide-and-seek. And that makes for a low-pressure environment—you're not stuck inside a club, waiting to buy drinks, says Ortega—that adds an accidental audience to the deliberate visitors, says Gauer.
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"The people that just happen to wander into it are actually even more engaged," he points out. "They've got no expectation whatsoever—they're walking down the street and they start hearing sounds. Or they come out of their apartment and wonder why people are walking through the neighborhood with maps—where are the sounds coming from? It's the element of surprise."
Even Gauer doesn't know exactly what he'll wake up to on SoundWalk Saturday—most artists install their pieces the night before (or on the day of) the event. But historically SoundWalk attracts an extremely diverse set of sound work, from unobtrusive low-tech installations in the trees to the immensely complex electronic sculptures that filled up most of Koo's last year. Artist Leticia Castaneda propped a disconnected speaker against a flagpole—silent sound art—while artist Joe Winter drove up from San Diego with a super-modified piano bristling with effects pedals and contact mics and pushed it on foot from performance to improv performance. ("A mobile architecture experiment," says Ortega.) There's even guerrilla participation—unscheduled installations like the "noise taxi," says Ortega, which was a minivan shuttling pedestrians between installations with harsh works by Antonin Artaud on its stereo. ("To the point of ears bleeding," laughs artist Phil Stearns, participating for the first time in SoundWalk this year.)
"That's the beauty of sound," says Gauer. "It can be anywhere."
SOUNDWALK 2006 PRE-PERFORMANCE WITH ARCANUM, ALESSANDRO BOSETTI, METAL ROUGE AND NOAH THOMAS AT 528 E. BROADWAY, LONG BEACH. FRI., 8 P.M. $10 DONATION. ALL AGES. SOUNDWALK MAIN EVENT BETWEEN BROADWAY AND OCEAN AND ATLANTIC AND ELM IN LONG BEACH'S EAST VILLAGE. SAT., 5 P.M. FREE. MONTHLONG INSTALLATION AT 2ND COUNCIL, 435 ALAMITOS AVE., LONG BEACH, (562) 901-0997. CALL FOR HOURS. THROUGH NOV. 5. WWW.SOUNDWALK.ORG.