LA State Historic Park Becomes Invisible Sound Machine With Virtual Art Installation

It’s not every day that you compose a piece of music just by walking, but now is your chance. Artist Jimena SarnoNote for herefacility, which opened last weekend, allows visitors to downtown Los Angeles State Historic Park to compose sound in real time as they stroll through the park.

Walking through different parts of the park triggers a different sound from Sarno’s collection – like an old piano out of tune from a house in Thailand, a broken faucet from Buenos Aires, and a man working as a mattress cleaner in Iran announcing that he’s coming.

The sounds come from artists, writers, poets and others around the world, who gave Sarno sound clips, songs and field recordings that made them feel connected to their land. Sarno herself is originally from Buenos Aires.

You can access the sounds through a free app on your phone, which you can find through QR codes on site.

Listen: One of the otherworldly sounds collected by Jimena Sarno for Score For Here

Sarno modified all the sounds using an audio processing technique known as granular synthesis.

“It’s basically putting a sound into a mixer and then reconfiguring the order and quality of each of the parts,” Sarno said. “What interested me was not to fall into a nostalgic playlist, but rather to stick to each person’s intimate connection with the sounds they had chosen.”

Artist Jimena Sarno.

Visitors end up with a separate layered score based on their unique moves. As you get further out of the way, you will find more layers of sound. These may be under certain trees, on top of a rock, or through certain created “desire paths” where people take shortcuts that may not be officially designated or paved.

It’s a spin on traditional GPS navigation – instead of the navigation telling you where to go, your own movements tell the app what to create.

A sketched graphic map showing how sound interacts with physical space in the artist's exhibition.

Part of the graphics card, designed by Sarno, combining the physical space with the invisible spaces of various sounds.

(Courtesy of artist Jimena Sarno)

Sarno doesn’t read music or consider herself a musician, but has been working with sound for some time, she said. Her installations often re-contextualize sound, composing soundscapes that she uses to explore questions of power. Instead of using music, Sarno created what she calls a “graphic score” with her own symbols, showing where all the sounds would connect with the park’s physical location.

“I don’t want to call it music, even though it’s very musical at times,” Sarno said.

The project draws on themes of erasure and displacement of the park’s original inhabitants, the Tongva people.

“My main idea for this project was to not add any more material to the site,” Sarno said. “I wanted something ephemeral and immaterial.”

The project was commissioned by non-profit arts organization Clockshop before the pandemic, with sounds collected over the past few years. The work itself will change over time – the application that generates the scores will remain available indefinitely as the soundbank continues to grow, according to Sarno.

However, the current iteration of the project is set to end on August 31.

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