Here is a screen reader accessible version of the print book in my current installation at Gallery 400. The book is also available as Braille. Ask a gallery attendant if you can’t find it.
Excerpts from “A Space For The Overactive Ear” (2018)
Contrary to popular belief, blind folks are capable of traveling independently. That means we actually leave the house and cross the street all by ourselves! Some of us use the CTA, spelunk in caves, and even go to Walgreen’s. Some of us, myself included, like to record the sounds we encounter when we do these things. The headphones or speakers on the wall are set up to audition 2 sound pieces I composed from field recordings using accessible recording tech.
Now, if you’re deaf or hard of hearing please allow me to offer you a transcription of what’s coming out of those speakers. I basically whack my cane around in different environments. The sound of the cane clicking in a space can give a blind person an idea of it’s dimensions and obstacles in the way, so that’s part of why we do it.
All of these sounds come from something familiar to everyone (cars, walls, food courts). By using this text to describe the recordings I am hoping to provide you with a visual or emotional reference point for each passage of sound. I’d like you to know what and how I hear…
PART I: TAP AND ROLL
I sweep my cane left to right on the ground and lift it up at the end of each stroke. The roller ball tip spins and echoes in the large empty space.
I spin circles on the ground and right inside the listener’s head. The circles double and multiply the anxiety.
My cane klangs musically on a metal guide rail outside of the CJM in SF, it clicks through an empty room at a strolling pace. Right to left, repeat. Keeping the rhythm I tic toc into a small wooden room, then on a sidewalk, then the roof of the Berney Falls cave, a larger warehouse, my wood paneled living room. The canes keep a steady pulse with little tocs interrupting here and there. The rooms open up and then get claustrophobic. Finally the cane swipes at a wall with a loud thrump-dooosh.
In a 20,000 square-foot empty warehouse
I take 20 steps from the left off into the distance. The click of the cane bounces from all directions. I thwack across the face of a cardboard box that has been emptied of its mini fridge. The boom reverberates for seven seconds. Satisfied with the caveman blast I walk back to where I started, ending my stroll with my foot in your left ear.
The sound of the food court completely buries me as I navigate through a confusing fog of voices (“Jam it in there! “, “You hit something, baloney”), bags, and moms, Sabarro. I bang around into tables and walls finally finding my way out of the maze. In front of a jewelry pagoda the cane echoes vividly like lysergic trails. The candy coated heavy metal from the Hot Topic means that I am by the exit door. Goodbye, horrible mall.
The cane now becomes a row of teeth chomping down on rocks as they roll across the mosaic sidewalk in front of some fancy hotel. Your chin is on the ground watching these teeth chomp the bricks. Clenching and grinding while a motorcycle squeals and drives off.
Another series of short walks through space:
Large room, sidewalk, empty Gallery 400, musical rail, a kid in Walgreen’s yelling, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”, Oak Park Blue Line ramp near I-290. An exit through the turnstile and I’m gone.
It is now quiet at night on my suburban Street. Only the crickets know I am there until from my left comes, “ Excuse me, you can’t see, right?”
A woman helps me around the pothole in the sidewalk.
The cane wanders up a brick wall and back down to the street.
I sweep along the ground crossing the street. A hotshot driver pulls too close and tears off.
It feels like I am walking down the middle of the avenue.
Horns and wheels and speeding people surround me. Cars drive towards me from the left and the right in front and in back. I continue to walk through the 100 tons of speeding steel. Pressing the walk button does nothing. The cane multiplies by three and klanks against telephone poles, bike racks, and the choppy sidewalk of the hectic street.
I walk away unscathed.
The panic attack is over.
Part II: Paralytic Transit: The Sounds of The CTA Blue Line.
There’s nothing like having 2 senses distorted simultaneously and nothing like being under the El tracks while crossing the street when you’re blind. Now your hearing is compromised and you’re paralyzed in the middle of a pothole with an unseen sedan coming at you. The CTA trains put the fear in me sometimes and it’s embarrassing. The old wise blind mage inside me said, “Face your fears, Andy, go and record the sounds that don’t intimidate you and make something beautiful out of them.” Here’s what happens…
I pass through the turnstile at Monroe and await the loud & smelly Train.
Six sets of doors pop open, breathe, thud, and push out in mechanical rhythm.
The train pulls away, bounding over the underground tracks. The repeating klack of chains against the car door breaks up the wind hitting the glass as we fade into silence.
Enter the brain-grinding exit carousel of the California stop. Approaching it with hands out ready to push. The grind is louder than the wheels on the rails. It’s pollution ramps up finally giving way to a moment of rest before the bellowing ride begins.
A door shuts.
The hum of fans, motors, mech, and vents thicken the air of the car.
A tiny slice of paper rapidly flaps between the exit doors.
The train is suddenly standing and the conductor interrupts,
“You have an emergency?”
“Can I help you? We’re not speaking, Clarence.“
BEEP BEEP BEEP
“Your attention please”
The hum is now frying like an egg.
“We are standing momentarily waiting for signal clearance. We expect to be moving shortly.”
Another series of short clicks and klacks.
A distant declaration of mumbles is followed by the stern amplified voice of a new conductor.
“Uh, honey, uh, bring it down a notch… in the front car – can you bring it down a notch. “
We then fade away to silence.