comments 11

Live House Dead House


Gary Kachadourian’s installation at the BMA is a room wheatpasted with xeorographic prints. The gallery space is transformed into a dismal, flattened set of a Baltimore-a city block, a wood paneled interior, and a bathroom. On account of it being to scale, a sort of human sized diorama, a kid like engagement flared up in me when I stepped into the space, started moving through it.

Looking closely at the sidewalk, the paneling of the house, and even the grass reveals that each whole object–a wall, ceiling, etc– is made up of several reproduced smaller images.. That’s how we build things–out of rectilinear, reproducible, mass manufactured blocks.  It becomes more disconcerting, I suppose, when applied to representations of the natural–a square of grass with the same off centered weed in it. The city-scape as mass-produced, biologically meager, etc.

Perhaps more interesting in the flattening of wood grain walls and grass is that I had the impression I was moving through a 1990s 3-D  corridor video game environment where there is no texture and no possibility of engaging with the particulars of the environment, just movement through various iterations of a maze.

Kachadourian’s flattened city scape points out the alienating nature of bleaker city-scapes but isn’t that something any Baltimorian who has taken a hard look at some of the cities less pretty blocks should understand fully already?

Isn’t, at this point, pointing out alienation banal ?   Maybe it is. Or its the first step in some sort of dialectic. A stuttering step that art for the last century seems intent on repeating.


On September 10th with some friends visiting from out of town, I stepped into the art space / collective living thingy at 1337 H St NE (Wash, DC). We were handed flashlights and told to use them to explore two stories of fog filled rooms. Ambient, sometimes discordant music from Bluebrain started playing from various rooms and as we passed through each room the texture of the music changed as well, determined by changes in it over time but also our proximity or distance from speakers each playing different things in different rooms. The experience was dynamic. People were reduced to shapes and gestures, the fog making their movement through the space tentative, delicate, their silhouettes becoming part of the ‘art.’ It was until seven or eight minutes in that our group realized that we could turn our flashlights. We turned them off and stood in the darkest room, shaking, with the floor, from the musics’ reverberation, and generally melting into the space.

Gins and Arakawa state that every piece of architecture should pose a question to those who encounter it. This one certainly seemed to accomplish that minute by minute as we kept deciding what do with the space as it and we changed. I’m hoping there was some documentation of the house (other than these shitty pictures). I’ll also look forward to what the H st folks do next. And thanks for getting us in, Adrian!

Filed under: Events, Friends

About the Author

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Joe Hall is the author of five books of poetry, including Someone's Utopia (2018) and Fugue & Strike (forthcoming). His poems, reviews, and scholarship have appeared in Poetry Daily, The Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day, Postcolonial Studies, Peach Mag,, PEN America Blog, Poetry Northwest, Ethel Zine, Gulf Coast, Best Buds! Collective, and Eighteenth-Century Fiction. He has taught poetry workshops for teachers, teens, and workers through Just Buffalo and the WNYCOSH Worker Center.


  1. Tom Weaver

    This sounds really cool. Man, I’ve been reading a lot about sound recently, and one thing that really interests me is infrasound — sound below human hearing range. Humans don’t hear it — but the wavelengths are so huge if they are in the right size room the wave can set up shop as a standing wave the exact dimensions of the room. Then when a person walks in, parts of their body start sympathetically resonating with the standing wave. Ears, eyes, brains, noses, etc. The result is supposed to be incredibly eerie because the eyes and ears don’t know what is going on so they start generating things that aren’t there to fill in the gaps. In addition, your brain starts to get wigged out and you get feelings of extreme anxiety, depression, stress and unease. Supposedly a lot of haunted houses are actually houses with standing infrasound waves propagating in them for whatever reason. Anyway — they don’t build speakers that generate tones below 20 hz. But it’s possible to build one….

  2. joescirehall

    So it is possible to build one. Has anyone? I’m surprised no bands have used sub-auditory tones to make their audience feel extra terrible about feeling old and not really being able to get into the music.

  3. Tom Weaver

    Yeah, people have built them, but mostly scientists. I read that thing “ghost in the machine” referenced by wikipedia. They did an experiment where they broadcast some classical music to two groups, one including infrasound and one not and it wigged people out. I haven’t heard of any band or artist building one. Although I did see a how to online. You can modify a subwoofer using things like PVP pipes and, like, altering the circuitry with a soddering iron and shit. You have to be pretty smart, in other words. Somebody should definitely do it. The problem is it would make your audience hate you, probably. Also you need a room of the appropriate size and shape. And probably a lot of power since these wave lengths are huge. I think a single wave is like 20 feet long. A room of the right size can re-inforce those waves though. Like I said, you’d need to be pretty fucking sciency.

    They occur naturally sometimes — these big standing waves. Tunnels are one place — like train tunnels and old abandoned wind tunnels and some warehouses and things. That is to say, haunted places.

  4. joescirehall

    Well, I guess a band could combine them with feel good sub-sonic waves and the composition is the patterned interaction of these waves. Are there any of those in the world? Or do they all make you feel terrible? Also, I bet Adrian Parsons and Jason Ortego and this guy Steve Plunkett I knew in Indiana who machined parts for a particle accelerator could do it.

  5. Tom Weaver

    a) I don’t read about feel-good tones Joe; b) anyone who machined parts for a particle accelerator could probably attach PVP pipes to a subwoofer.

  6. Tom Weaver

    But seriously, as far as I know infrasound always makes you feel bad… I think that’s partially because it’s vibrating parts of the body that don’t usually resonante, in weird, ooky ways. Maybe if you could hit the exact right frequency you could make something pleasant resonate. The problem is we are talking about sacks of meat here, and I think every sack of meat probably has slightly different “sweet spots” The details of this stuff are kinda over my head. But Adrian, Jason, and Mr. Plunkett should definitely do this.

  7. joescirehall

    Makes sense. And maybe some organs will feel good as others break apart and cry. No win here.

  8. Geoff Wallace

    Maryanne Amacher built site-specific sound installations often on a massive scale (re: castles). Unfortunately documenting her work is difficult without 3D sound; most recordings of her installations pass the mic from room to room – imparting a fallacy of linear progression instead of spatial progression. She also made music that turned the human ear into an instrument – paraphrase: right tones at high volume makes ear bones vibrate makes ear bones generate own tones. (This is called otoacoutic phenomenon.) I don’t know about lower frequency stuff, but she did create a project in Buffalo… “in 1967, she created City Links: Buffalo, a 28-hour piece using 5 microphones in different parts of the city, broadcast live by radio station WBFO. There were 21 other pieces in the ‘City Links’ series, though many details are not yet known. A common feature was the use of dedicated, FM radio quality telephone (0-15,000 Hz range) lines to connect the sound environments of different sites into the same space.”

    Not sure if this advances the dialogue.

    Also: Hawkwind used oscillators in their music in the ’60s/’70s. Not sure of the frequency employed, but Wiki states low-freq oscillators can generate waveforms below 20 Hz. Hawkwind also played their music at over 120 db – and employed a buxom woman to dance nude on stage. I think people had a tendency to pass out at their shows.

    Bonus also: the military’s made attempts at devising sound weapons, esp. ones that trigger the “brown note”…

    • joescirehall

      Yeah, reproduction of that sounds impossible. I really like the idea of a tone making the body tone.

      I wonder if Hawkwind had an idea of what they were doing or were just throwing tones at a wall.

      And is the brown note what is sounds like?

  9. Geoff Wallace

    There’s an almost-great M.A. documentary feat. Thurston Moore called ‘Daytripping with Maryanne.’ One prominent YouTube clip features Thurston pleasantly covering his ears while M.A. drone-blasts some wild loops in her rotting 2-room house. (For the record, her dancing is reminiscent of a seizure victim high on syzzurp.) I’m sure she turned Thurston’s entire body into a tone.

    Blast a drone.

    And yes, the brown note is exactly what it sounds like. From what I remember, the biggest problem with the weapon was that no one could fire it without falling prey to the brown note. Not mutually assured destruction but M.A.S. – Mutually Assured Shitting…

  10. joescirehall

    Nice. Well, I’m sure it’s a matter of time before the government can send drones to blast the brown note. Though they probably prefer just killing people.

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