Janet Cardiff and George B. Miller‘s sound installation “The Murder of Crows” (playing at Park Avenue Armory) begins with a women narrating her nightmare. Her nightmare is that she is in a factory where the machines are being fed cats and babies. In this sound installation you are completely enveloped in sound, making the dynamics of sound artistic. Left with only the sense of hearing to guide you, as your mind paints the pictures; as you sit, stand or maybe even lay down in the enormous auditorium.
Surrounded by 98 speakers, about 50 seats and a table with a gramophone placed on top, the sounds dance across the room, making it all the more realistic. It became dark and gloomy as I listened to the melancholy voice of a young bewildered woman, experiencing the ache of her troubling nightmares.
Understanding the concept behind it and what’s being said requires some effort – to tie the darkness of the visual scene itself and pairing it with the emotional darkness being expressed through the sound. For example, in that opening scene where the narrator describes the feeding of cats and babies to machines, the narrator explains that the fact that the “feeding” was so systematic and organized made the bloody act even more horrific. She continues to take you on a journey of her nightmares. She moves from a factory, to a strange country and then a sandy beach. Comprehending how these places are tied together and the different events that occur in each place gives the story it’s depth and depression.
This sound installation concludes with a very melancholy song, accompanied with the soft strumming of guitars. The song mentions crows, strange lullabies, the inability to sleep because of strange noises. The song finishes off with a sense of conclusion and hope: ‘Close your eyes and try to sleep’. I say hope because throughout the song it speaks of these strange noises preventing her from sleeping; but, when these dreams are done, she knows the dawn won’t be too far off– signaling the end of these painful nightmares and burdening visions. The last line gives the story its concluding effect and gives it the finishing touches of the creepiness that is portrayed all throughout the sound installation.
What makes this type of art so unique and astounding is how the sounds take their own paths throughout the room. When birds swoop through the air, the sound makes its way from its starting point and echoes through a path of speakers until it reaches its end, making the sound feel so real and almost forcing you to look up and search for the bird. When musicians start playing and a chorus starts singing, you can travel to each speaker, as I did, and listen as you hear each individual speaker with its own individual singer and pitch. This gives the illusion of a real chorus.
When reading on the background of the sound installation, it calls to mind the name of the show and its relation to how it’s set up. The title “The Murder of Crows” brings to mind how crows have the unusual ability to mourn when one of them dies. It isn’t hard to imagine the speakers that hang overhead, sit on chairs, or that are on the floor, as crows mourning around the voice that eerily shoots out of the gramophone and echoes throughout the speakers.
Overall, it was an exciting and breath-taking experience, and insanely cryptic, as the speakers boom the varying depressing sounds into your body and your mind immerses itself into the gloom that the sounds set you in.