Artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller will animate Park Avenue Armory’s cavernous drill hall this summer with a "dream-like soundscape that envelops audiences in a poetic and visceral sonic experience."
In its U.S. premiere, The Murder of Crows continues Cardiff & Miller’s exploration of physical and sculptural attributes of sound in their largest sound installation to date, transforming the Armory’s 55,000-square-foot Wade Thompson Drill Hall into an immersive environment where sound alone creates vivid imagery and narrative structure. Created in collaboration with Freida Abtan, Tilman Ritter, and Titus Maderlechner, the three-part, 30-minute composition weaves together a fluttering of voices, music, and sounds to construct a captivating and confounding melodrama that investigates concepts of desire, intimacy, love, and loss.
On view from August 3 through September 9, 2012,The Murder of Crows was co-commissioned by Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary and is presented by the Armory in association with the Mostly Mozart Festival. The installation at the Armory will be complemented by a performance by the International Contemporary Ensemble, who will perform works by John Cage, Olivier Messiaen, and a world premiere work by American composer Suzanne Ferrin, on Sunday, August 12, throughout the Armory’s first floor historic rooms.
“Janet and George have a keen ability to create narrative and conjure up imagery through the movement of abstract sound. The Murder of Crows draws audiences into a surreal world populated with wondrous and disquieting characters,” said Rebecca Robertson, President and Executive Producer of Park Avenue Armory. “Visitors to the Armory will be subsumed into this work which, like an instrument tuned for the space, will transform the drill hall into an enthralling auditory world.”
Three of Janet Cardiff’s dreams serve as the basis for The Murder of Crows, which is structured like a play or a film but with imagery generated only by voice, music, and sound effects. Created using special binaural recording techniques, the installation transports the audience across time and space through the evocative and sometimes disorienting use of sound. Ninety-eight speakers mounted on stands, chairs, and walls throughout the drill hall give voice to the various scenes and characters in this enigmatic composition—from crashing waves to a marching band to the hubbub of a factory floor. Emanating from a gramophone speaker at the center of the installation, Cardiff’s detached voice recounts a series of disturbing dreams—providing an armature for the work.
The gramophone speaker is a visual trope drawn from Francisco Goya’s “Los Caprichos” series of acquatints from 1897 and 1898, whose unsettling images created in response to the political and social upheaval of the time served as inspiration for the installation. The title of the work The Murder of Crows refers to the English term for a flock of crows, who, by coincidence, have been used in literature and visual arts to represent harbingers of death. In addition, the title references the strange natural occurrence known as a “crow funeral,” in which a multitude of crows surround the body of a dead crow and caw, seemingly in mourning, for over 24 hours.