Audio graffiti

September 22, 2011

by Kirsten Akens
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Mountain Ghosts
Through mid-November
University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, 1420 Austin Bluffs Pkwy.
Free; download a smartphone application at uccs.edu/goca/ART/MountainGhosts.html, or check out a smartphone from the UCCS Information Desk in University Center. For more, visit halseyburgund.com/work/mg.

If you’ve never wandered the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs campus, doing so now would be ideal. Mountain Ghosts, an art installation that opened Sept. 8 and will run approximately two months, encompasses the entire property and depends upon individual involvement to grow.

As East Coast artist Halsey Burgund describes it, Mountain Ghosts is “location-sensitive, participatory, site-specific sound art.” You first become part of the project by downloading a free smartphone application (or by borrowing a phone from the school), plugging in some headphones, and pressing “Listen.”

An instrumental, almost ethereal, composition fills your ears. Then come the noises, or “ghosts,” which have been coded by location and collected into a databank. Walk near University Center and a male voice says, “I am very tall, and very straight, and very skinny, and I have 16 legs with stripes on them,” reflecting a sculpture on the hill. Pass the basketball courts, and though no one is on them, the smack of bouncing balls comes across loud and clear.

“It’s not a performance,” the 37-year-old Burgund says. “It’s something that exists in real time, as people experience it. … The core of everything I do is the idea of going out and collecting people’s responses to questions or situations and then using them in artworks I create.”

In this case, those responses come via on-site, at-the-moment recordings. Want to add the sound of the bell tower chiming? Or a dog barking? Or a personal reflection on the view of Pikes Peak from campus? One push of a “Record” button, and you can.

Almost instantaneously, what you record is uploaded through the app and becomes a permanent part of the larger collection of sounds atop Burgund’s framework. Whoever comes along and listens next will hear your submission — either entwined with others’ “ghosts,” or by itself, depending on where that person is standing.

The artist admits the process is a bit nerve-racking. He has no control over what happens to a project like this once he turns it over to the people.

“It isn’t my brainchild fully,” Burgund admits. “It’s not me imposing myself on this site and trying to control this site. It’s me allowing for a collective community to continuously modify a space.”

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