Out Quiet Yourself

Part of Exhibition: Listen



of an Exhibit

by Wendy Pollock

Published on February 03, 2012

  • Description:

    This is one of those simple ideas that starts with an experience most children have had: trying to walk really quietly. It adds a note of challenge and competition and makes its point quickly. Part of a collection called Listen, which was developed with a grant from NSF, this piece was prototyped by an artist and in an early iteration, as I recall, was more beautiful both to look at and experience. The basic concept was a sort of “Zen garden” – a simple wooden frame filled with smooth dark stones – with microphones hidden in the stones. The user entered at the right, stepped up on a low platform, and walked across to the other end, a distance of maybe 10 feet (3m). A meter registered the sounds, giving continuous visual feedback at the other end of the path.

    This version has clearly been hardened, with a numerical readout and challenge to get the lowest possible number by the time you finish. Also, on-lookers can see only the walker’s feet rather than the whole path; presumably the wall was needed to keep out ambient sound. And the rough gravel isn’t nearly as appealing to the eye or the feet as the smoother stones I think were used early on.

    Still, people gather around with looks of delight. As part of the Listen collection, this experience heightens awareness of the simplest act, connects with childhood experience, engages the whole body, offers immediate feedback, and gets people talking together. I didn’t notice the film mentioned in the sign, but I’m guessing most people don’t need much explanation. My images are poor, taken during an “After Dark” event, but people were really enjoying themselves – and I was happy to pay a visit to one of my Exploratorium favorites.

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