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transparent cities

Transparent Cities




"Pondering these nearly still images and listening to the city in new ways is indescribably pleasurable. You'll find yourself slowing down, settling in and then opening up to the remarkable audio/visual experience around us all the time." --Holly Willis, Blur + Sharpen

The Project:


Transparent Cities is a collaborative work of music and video by Madison Brookshire, April Guthrie, Michael Pisaro and Cassia Streb. It is a portrait of Los Angeles that uses audio and video recordings to register the city's rhythms, its sounds and its silences. By combining layers of sound and image with both prerecorded and live music, Transparent Cities studies the complex relationships between reality and recording, presence and absence, lived experience and re-presented time.

The Recordings:

Instead of isolating sounds the way you normally would in a studio, we chose to capture the sound of the musician performing in the environment—one in her Highland Park neighborhood, the other overlooking the Santa Clarita Valley. Because they are made “in the field,” we call these “field recordings.”

For the field recordings, the musicians—April Guthrie (cello) and Cassia Streb (viola)—performed alongside the environment while the recordists, Madison Brookshire (video) and Michael Pisaro (sound), captured the changes in light and sound over the course of the day.

We made two sets of these recordings, one on March 16, 2008 (Streb in Highland Park) and the other on June 13, 2008 (Guthrie in Valencia). For both sets, recordings were made at equal intervals from sunrise to sunset.

During the editing process, we then layered these recordings one on top of the other, allowing one to see and hear the environment at several different times of day simultaneously. Layering the images in this way creates another strange effect: any thing that moves appears translucent while any thing that remains still, because it is layered over itself many times, appears solid. Thus, houses and telephone poles look more or less normal, but if a car drives by it looks like a shadow or a ghost.


An excerpt from the finished video can be seen here.

Separate from the field recordings, Guthrie and Streb also recorded a series of isolated tones that Pisaro arranged into two slightly overlapping arc shapes. He used a stochastic or “controlled random” procedure to insert occasional tones “under” the arc. This forms a consistent, harmonic web in the background of the performance.

Finally, Pisaro also made a recording of the Billy Wilder Theater itself.

The Live Performance:

Leading into the performance, Pisaro's recording of the Billy Wilder Theater, layered over itself many times, builds very gradually in volume. By layering and filtering the recording, Pisaro created “pink” noise out of the sounds of the room itself. This pink noise uses the sound of the room to affect the way that we perceive sound in
the room and serves as a kind of ramp into the larger work.

During the live performance, Guthrie and Streb play their instruments along with the recordings made in the field, creating an audible hinge between the recorded past and the present. At times, their performance rhymes with the music they made during the original recordings while at other times they create a stark contrast with their recordings, highlighting the differences between music made in the hall versus music made in the field.

Together, the layers of video, sound, tone, live music and pink noise make a tapestry of time, memory, experience and imagination, oscillating between the warp and weft of representation and reality.

This work was created while in residence at The Hammer Museum. The Hammer Museum's Artist Residency Program was initiated with funding from the Nimoy Foundation and is supported through a significant grant from the James Irvine Foundation.