Boris Tsang/Sun Photography Editor

Students engage in the “Cornell According to Sound” listening booth on the Arts Quad on November 14th, 2019.

November 18, 2019

What Does Cornell Sound Like? Telephone Booth Exhibition Explores Sounds on Campus

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Last week, an unassuming telephone booth appeared on the Arts Quad. When curious students entered the booth, they could hear a myriad of sounds that define Cornell — chimes, conversations around campus and ice skates, among others.

The creators of this exhibition, Chris Hoff ’02 and Sam Harnett, spent the past semester at Cornell gathering sounds as artists-in-residence in Cornell’s Media Studies Initiative — which supports interdisciplinary research in sound studies.

“What’s especially interesting about the Cornell project is that it’s the study of an institution,” said Prof. Jeremy Braddock, English. “That includes student life, the relationship of the university to the community and the unique research collections that exist at Cornell.”

This project — titled “Cornell According to Sound” —  was the third installment of the College of Arts and Sciences Arts Unplugged Series, a program that hosts events and exhibits in the humanities, arts and social sciences to foster discussion among the Cornell community.

Previous “Arts Unplugged” events included a community reading of Homer’s Odyssey last spring and a masterclass in Sundance documentary filmmaking in October.

Hoff and Harnett are also the creators of the podcast “The World According to Sound,” which airs on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” Their 90-second episodes explore specific sounds and their backstories.

Braddock, who chairs the Media Studies Initiative, told The Sun that the duo first performed at Cornell a couple of years ago. During their time at Cornell, Hoff and Harnett made connections with professors and researchers. Impressed by their work, Braddock sought to find partners in the University who could help make Hoff and Harnett artists-in-residence for a semester.

“There was a lot of synergy between their approach to recording and preserving sound and the kinds of work that was being done at the University,” Braddock said.

This past semester, Hoff and Harnett worked with professors in sound studies and held a recording workshop with students in the Milstein Program in Technology and Humanity. The students got the opportunity to record parts of an evening chimes concert at different locations, on and off-campus.

The sounds gathered by Hoff and Harnett will also be presented at four live audio shows from Nov. 20-21 at the Flex Theater in the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts, according to a University press release. The show is free, but space is limited, and tickets have already sold out.

The show will be presented in a room of 100 seats and a ring of eight, high-powered speakers. Audience members will be given eye masks, and the room will be dark — allowing the audience to closely engage with the sounds.

“Anyone who attends the performance will have an experience utterly unlike anything they’ve experienced before,” Braddock said.