All posts in “The Listening Room”

Two Sculptural Pair & A Next 50 Affair

There is a display in SAM Downtown’s Wright & Runstad Gallery for African Art holding two pairs of sculptures that provide a transcendent view of “togetherness” and what it means for the spiritual to be connected with the earth. The first is a pair of “Male and Female figures” made by the Baule of central Cote d’Ivoire. The painted wood sculptures represent spirit spouses that inhabit another world parallel to this one, and are prescribed by diviners to promote a healthy living situation between spouses. Imbued with power by the diviner each sculpture is given individual attention by its client in order for the power to be activated. Beside this pair resides a set of Congolese harps carved with faces at the end of their long curving necks to keep their players company and watch their every move. Atop flexed, carved legs their bellies would be filled with sound as the harp couple was played by two musicians travelling as a pair. During their travels the performers recited history as their livelihood and sang legendary epics.

Taken together these objects bring to mind the exhibit Theaster Gates: The Listening Room where objects form a collective history and repurposed materials find new meaning as art. The collection of records taken from Chicago’s now defunct Dr. Wax record store reminds me of the spirit spouses who are deserving of more attention. Giving attention to the records in SAM’s twice monthly DJ sets in the Listening Room (come listen next week May 3 & 6!) has allowed people in our community to come together at SAM through music. Although the spirit spouses must be decommissioned of their power by the diviner before they enter the museum the enduring coolness in their expressions continues to give meaning to their remedial function. Similarly the decommissioned fire hoses lining the walls of the Listening Room evoke memories of the civil rights movement in the 1960s where protestors were sprayed with these high pressure hoses during race riots. Our collective memory is jarred by Theaster Gates who saw value in an art object where others saw scrap material.

 

 

 

Considering this communal environment brings up another project Theaster Gates is involved with – the upcoming performance of “red, black & GREEN: a blues” coming to the Intiman Theater for Seattle Center’s Next 50 festival 30 May – 2 June.  The performance is collaborative and interactive, written for the stage by performer, activist, and educator Marc Bamuthi Joseph. Bamuthi is working with a host of talented artists including set design by Gates. Click here to learn more about Marc Bamuthi Joseph and the Living Word Project and watch videos on the performance “red, black & GREEN: a blues.”

 

 

The central question addressed by Bamuthi is, “what sustains life in your city?” This is something he asked many people through the Life is Living festivals he has curated since 2008 in various U.S. cities and forms the inspiration that went into writing “red, black & GREEN: a blues.” By incorporating “the voices of people often left out of discussions about living green,” this conversation on the environment succeeds where others have fallen short, and actively seeks a reimagining of where we place value in our community.[i] This forms a collective experience that, through the stories Bamuthi has engaged and the recycled materials of Theaster’s set inspired by row houses, express our social ecology with power, grace, and rhythm.  The success of this performance comes from the belief that “ultimately we are interdependent and stronger through collaboration,” which, like the Congolese harps and Ivorian spirit spouses, helps us maintain good relations and feel connected with the earth.

-Ryan R. Peterson, Curatorial + Community Engagement Intern


[i] Source: Mapp international productions website. Artist proframs, artists and projets, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, red, black & GREEN: a blues. Last accessed 24, April, 2012. http://mappinternational.org/programs/view/214

Top photo: “Male and Female Figures,” wood, paint, Ivorian, Baule & “Pair of Harps,” wood, skin, fabric, Congolese, Ngbaka. Photograph by the Author. Taken 4/24/12. JPEG file.

 

 

 

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Designing Memories

We’ve all been swept away by the ability of an album to evoke memories, ideas, or particular moods. How does the design of an album cover relate to the music and how do music and cover together evoke these memories, ideas, and moods? In the Theaster Gates: the Listening Room exhibition the wall of records is an aesthetic display of the importance of visual imagery to the music we listen to. I can pick up any of these records and attempt to date the year it was released and the type of music that will be heard on the album. Just from looking at the album cover I have an idea formed for what I’m about to experience and something visual to stimulate more thoughts as I listen to the music.

Stan Gets’ “Another Time, Another Place” and Teena Marie’s “Robbery” and are examples of records that tie my ideas of trends popular in an era to the  music and design that characterize this era.

 

What associations do we have of visual designs, colors, and images to musical rhythms? There’s a whole set of abstract visual artists (past and contemporary) who base their design on connecting to some sort of musical rhythm, or spiritual rhythm of which they believe music and visual art are the expressions. Examples of this connection between music and visual art are Wassily Kandinsky’s “Composition” paintings or the intimate relationship between jazz music and visual artists. I would say a musical rhythm relates to emotions, but we all feel emotional sways a little differently and we have different dreams and myths that we associate with certain emotions, music and imagery. Where do we find the overlap between each of our personal dreams and associations to a type of music and imagery?

Critical discussions around trends in artistic and cultural media play a game of informing and being informed by music of an era. These criticisms impact our own experience of music as well. I don’t think the whole arena of critical review and genre categorization hold only arbitrary value, but I wonder what key effects in a song or an album do we agree make it interesting to discuss? How does the social climate affect our experience with music? How does an album or song become iconic or timeless? What does this record collection tell us about certain times in our communal history and our personal relationship to this history?

These are the sorts of questions that Theaster Gates: The Listening Room brings up for us to think about and discuss together.  Think about what ideas, fantastical or historical, are evoked in you the next time you listen to something that someone recommends to you, or that you find in a store. Why is this record valuable to remember? What about its album design tells us about when the album was released and the cultural history it represents?

 

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Lumber-Made Listening

Theaster Gates’ Listening Stools, one of the sculptural forms in the exhibit The Listening Room, have helped transform SAM’s Knight-Lawrence Gallery into an open space for music and ideas. Their design may be simple and made from recycled wood, coming from the floorboards of a Chicago police station, but the stools invite visitors to sit, relax, and engage with the art, music and each other. They often lead guests to converse about a record they’re currently holding, and I can’t say how many people have learned to play their first 33 1/3” vinyl record on a turn table while sitting in one of these modest wooden chairs.

Although his artistic training is in ceramics Gates’ sculpted pieces for The Listening Room draw from his seemingly endless resources using recycled lumber as a medium that allows him to transcend artistic traditions and place focus on social engagement through discarded materials-come-art. The Listening Stools are one of these unlikely art objects carrying a history in their structure. Other lumber materials present in the exhibit are the ware board record crates (see below), the original sandwich board from Dr. Wax’s record store made to look like a Japanese Shoji screen, and the entirely recycled wood deejay table faced with a carved wooden altar screen sourced from a defunct Chicago church.

Another example of Gates’ material repurposing is his Temple Exercises (2009) at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, which constructed a temple-like structure from modular ware boards from the abandoned Wrigley Gum factory in the heart of Chicago. This became a site for spiritual exercises and performance by groups such as Gates’ own ensemble,  the Black Monks of Mississippi. The same Wrigley ware boards are used in the Listening Room for the record crates that accompany the turntable in the middle of the gallery in which visitors are invited to peruse records and listen in on headphones at any time during museum hours.

“I’m one person,” says Gates, “one whole person who thinks about friendship and neighborliness and God as much as I think about object making.”[1] His chairs achieve the sense of transformation that Gates’ work self-consciously seeks to convey. Inherent in this transformation is the vinyl vertebrae lining the back wall of the gallery: Dr. Wax’s Record Archive. Entering the gallery for the first time viewers are perhaps not expecting to see a long shelf of records and deejay table. Set into the back wall Dr. Wax’s records are joined with the musical sounds that can be heard emanating from the gallery before visitors even enter the space. They are immediately faced with the aural and visual qualities of this kinesthetic installation and find themselves asking the question “How do I engage with this art?” By the time visitors reach the Listening Stools, they have intoned through osmosis the intertwining themes of music, history, politics, and space that are addressed by the exhibit. It is the music’s audio ability to communicate cultural, political, and artistic history to a public willing and able to engage that brings meaning to the lumber-made objects present in the gallery and comes full circle to connect the archive of cultural knowledge to its listeners.

-Ryan R. Peterson, Curatorial + Community Engagement Intern 


[1] Art In America, December 2011, p. 126

Last photo: SAM patrons Faye Peterson and Mike O’Brien browsing records in the Listening Room. Photograph by author. JPEG file.

 

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Vinyl Records: A “Comeback” Reinterpreted

I’ve had many conversations about the supposed “comeback” of vinyl records throughout my time interning at the Theaster Gates: The Listening Room installation and the Seattle Art Museum Record Store project that was located in Pioneer Square from December 13, 2011 to January 31, 2012 . Being from a younger generation who came of age in the last decade or so, it’s interesting to be engaged in these conversations with people of all generations.  It’s as if a reawakening to the objects of records has struck contemporary culture into a jolt of nostalgia and remembrance. People of older generations have expressed sudden excitement to get all their friends to go down into their basements or open closets and shuffle through boxes of old records.  This is exactly what we interns did to relocate the 2,000 or so records owned by Bernie Hall to our Record Store; his collection makes up over half of the records included in the Record Store project. It’s as though these objects are buried treasures from long ago, or perhaps tokens of a forgotten past among old metal keys, old photographs, or old newspaper clippings. These records are time capsules of cultural history and each record collection reflects the owner’s personal relationship to this past, their own path through history.

Many in my generation started by discovering records from someone else’s collection before we got into buying our own. In growing up shuffling through our parents’ records, we established a new kind of relationship with these vinyl objects. This younger generational relationship to records is about learning our cultural history through listening to these material recordings of the past, but this is a past we haven’t experienced ourselves. We discovered record albums’ significance to past and present culture through not only listening to their innovative sounds but through the storytelling and literature glorifying the weight these iconic albums hold. From our engagement with these time capsules, our own creation and collection of musical taste developed into the colorful complexity that is contemporary music and culture.

I’ve grown up during the era of post-modern reflection and recycling of past pop-culture. Every decade in the 20th century has its own style and culture and the music of each decade sets the tone of attitude behind the decade’s style of pop-culture. Ordinary objects are stylized by colors, patterns, typefaces, and graphics. I grew up loving the adventure in discovering objects that embody the style of particular decades.  I established a permanent love for ‘thrifting’, or object-seeking. I always search for records because they are objects with more than just style; the music narrates ideas and moods of a cultural era and the album cover, through visual design, embodies a link to cultural ideas and moods of a period.

Often “thrifters” of my generation have an interest in the era our parents grew up in, and in the exchange of styles from decades before and after. Though records have been reinterpreted as an aesthetic phenomenon, they never lost their historical relevance; their quality and influence continue to inform contemporary culture.

Both collecting the material object and the activity of playing records on a record player are seen as an aesthetic art.  In owning physical records, you accumulate a collection that expresses a certain knowledge of aesthetic taste and historical knowledge.

Though not every kid I knew had their own record player, they most likely had someone in their family, if not their parents, who had an appreciation and insight to the timeless quality of vinyl sound and of the quality in the activity of playing a record. There is an art to slowing down and appreciating the music and design of a record, both in exploring the cover and sleeve design, and in setting up the stylus and sitting back to soak up the highest quality analog sound to come from a piece of physical material. It takes patience and agility to gently set up the record player and continuously attend to the player to keep the music playing.  My generation grew up defining this experience as cool, sophisticated and well-cultured.

So why the noise about a reawakening and resurgence of an object never really lost of appreciation, let alone lost from sight? Maybe it has something to do with our day and age of uncontrolled digital information exchange and virtual experience of media and culture. The preciousness of a physical material object which holds memories and creativity on record, a vinyl record….this is a treasure that younger generations have rediscovered and desire to collect for their own study of our historical past. Studying these objects allows new generations to impact their own creative intentions by reflecting on and overtly referencing iconographic records. This isn’t a ‘comeback,’ it’s a reinterpretation of these iconic objects that embody music which will always be relevant to future creative culture.

 -Paige Smith, Curatorial + Community Engagement Intern

Last photo: Joe Lencioni, shiftingpixel.com

 

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Tumba Francesca Album Cover

Faith In Analog

Until recently my attachment to records has been more or less superficial, but when I started buying ethnographic records a couple years ago I began to see how they are loaded with cultural significance for both the listener and the cultures producing them. On one such recording, entitled Afro-Cuban Music from the Roots: Tumba Francesca la Caridad de Oriente (subtitled “percussion and voices traditional and experimental”), I heard how a musical performance can be hugely influential to both the tangible and spiritual elements of a culture’s identity. Now, after being a part of the Record Store project and meeting luminaries such as Seattle’s own DJ Riz, known for his role in the independent radio station KEXP, I can firmly say, and I don’t think I’m alone here, Records are my religion.

Afro-Cuba – Tumba Francesca. 2006. Soul Jazz Records. Personal photograph by author. JPEG file.

Records are an audio phenomenon in a vinyl medium. Vinyl is a medium formatted to articulate a musical vision and in exchange the music acts as the idea-force behind the record. The idea of the neighborhood record store, now often a rare survivor of a former era, is a space with the power to put these receptacles of music’s most essential qualities into the world.

Records are indeed objects of beauty, and I would go further to say they are objects with allure and seduction. We are drawn to the music and what it evokes in us when we put a record on a turntable. Through the attraction we are able to relive familiar moments from the past or become familiar with new musics of the world. Part of this draw is how records allow us to derive pleasure from a listening experience and the recognition of our own “place” in that moment in time.

In the same vein architectural space may be viewed as “a setting into work of truth through recognition and orientation.” To quote the architectural historian Alberto Pérez-Gómez, “the space of architecture, always elusive and mysterious, is the space in which we may perceive ourselves, if only for a moment, as whole.”[1] In his Timaeus Plato names this space the “chora,” or the third element of reality in which we encounter our “other half.” I saw this happen in the Record Store all the time, especially when a slow jam like Bobby Womack’s T.K.O. made its way onto the speakers.

 1983. The Listening Room, Seattle, WA. 2 March 2012. Personal photograph by author. JPEG file. 

Love Wars by the R&B duo Womack & Womack. 1983. The Listening Room, Seattle, WA. 2 March 2012. Personal photograph by author. JPEG file.

What I see as the real beauty of SAM’s Record Store project is its freedom from monetary distinctions and ability to fully create a Platonic “chora” for anybody who walked through its door. In my own Platonic view – record stores give form to this third dimension of reality in which time becomes endless and determined only by a continuous rotation of sound waves.  The neighborhood record store allowed its patrons this perception of completeness through music. I saw this potential realized by one patron of the Record Store who visited almost every day during extended “breaks” away from his job cleaning the streets in Pioneer Square. For him and the rest of us the Record Store became, in the words of Alberto Pérez-Gómez, “a site of resistance against the collapse of desire that drives Modernist technological utopias.”[2]

Reflecting on my time at the Record Store there is no place I could have better pictured myself after coming out of the ethers of academic life. Although the storefront Record Store is in the process of transformation the idea, like the song, remains the same. In fact you will be able to see the Record Store “popping up” again in the future so stay tuned in to the music.

-Ryan R. Peterson, Curatorial + Community Engagement Intern 


[1] Holl, Steven. 1996. Intertwining. pp. 9-10

[2] Ibid.

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Record Store Listening Party Schedule for January 16−19

TUES | January 17

6:30 PM – Cancelled due to weather concerns!

Selectors: Jason Plourde and the Three Dollar Bill Cinema Family

Join Jason Plourde, the Programming Director for Seattle’s own Three Dollar Bill Cinema, for an evening of that you will never forget. Three Dollar Bill Cinema provides access to films by, for, and about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and their families, and a forum for LGBT filmmakers to share and discuss their work with audiences. We curate themed screenings throughout the year and produce programs in partnership with other arts, cultural, and service delivery organizations in the Greater Seattle area.

WED | January 18

Noon –  Cancelled due to weather concerns!

Selector: Karen Toering, Cultural Worker

Karen Toering is back to man the store for the day! She is cultural worker who finds joy in the spaces where justice and art intersect. She is a grant-writing and development consultant for non-profit arts, cultural and social justice organizations. She is Director of GroundUP Organics, an urban farming and food justice program for youth and young adults. Her passion also includes film, where she Program Director of Seattle’s Langston Hughes African American Film Festival and founder of the Gary International Black Film Festival.

6:30 PM –  Cancelled due to weather concerns!

Selector: Makoiyo Alley-Barnes and Makers of Note

THURS | January 19

Noon – Cancelled due to weather concerns!

Selectors: Seattle Art Museum Staff/Volunteers

6:30 PM – Cancelled due to weather concerns!

Selector: To Be Announced

The Record Store is a temporary extension of the Theaster Gates show housed in a storefront in Pioneer Square. A collaboration between SAM and Olson Kundig Architects, the Record Store is open for the general public to browse the robust collection of records and play albums for the entire store or listen in a small group.

While nothing is for sale in the store, the exchange of ideas and concerns is encouraged. The goal is for the Record Store to function as a cultural commons where ideas, issues and moments in time are discussed, debated or responded to.

The Record Store will feature a series of “listening parties” with guest DJs, artists, community folks, dancers, musicians, urban planners, activists, etc. Each “selector” will borrow from the same collection of LP’s or brings a few of their own records that act as the sound track that illustrates their ideas. Irruptions might take various forms including: debates, writing or dance classes, silent reading, tastings, workshops, to-do-lists or a sermon.

RECORD STORE LOCATION
[storefront] Olson Kundig Architects
406 Occidental Ave. S
Seattle, WA 98104

HOURS
Tues| Wed | Thurs
12 – 4 pm and 6:30 – 9:00 pm

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Record Store Listening Party Schedule for January 10-13

TUES | January 10

6:30 PM

Selector: Joshua Kohl, Degenerate Art Ensemble Co-Artistic Director/Co-Founder

Joshua Kohl has created original works for dance, silent film, concert ensembles, “classico-punk-big band” shows and street performances and has collaborated extensively on the creation of invented instruments used in DAE performances. Kohl has performed extensively throughout the U.S., as well as in the Netherlands, Italy, Slovenia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland, Italy, and Germany, with the support of Arts International Fund for U.S. Artists and the Mid-Atlantic States Foundation’s U.S. Artists International. In addition to his work with Degenerate Art Ensemble, Kohl has created scores for the San Francisco-based dance theater company inkBoat; for a commissioned performance of c(h)ord (2008) at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco; Tale of Two Cities (2007) and Night Flight (2007–2009) for Seattle’s Book-It Repertory Theatre; as well as Twelfth Night (2007) and The Beard of Avon (2007) for Portland Center Stage. In spring 2011 Kohl will perform with Haruko Nishimura at the Center for Performance Research in New York City, and he will be in a residency with DAE at Robert Wilson’s Watermill Center: A Laboratory for Performance, Long Island, New York.

WED | January 11

6:30 PM

Jonathan Cunningham and Rich Jensen, Hollow Earth Radio, Last Night’s Mixtape, Metro Times Music Blog

Cunningham is bound to make you think, talk and move just as he does in on Hollow Earth Radio – the weekly radio show that features music and conversation connected to Seattle’s musical hot bed known as the Central District. Broadcasts “could include anything from Jimi Hendrix to Ernestine Anderson to Ray Charles to Vitamin D to Shabazz Palaces to Wheedle’s Groove or a conversation about gentrification…they aim to unearth a local gem each week from yesteryear that more contemporary listeners need to know.”

THURS | January 12

6:30 PM

Selectors: Randy Engstrom, Founding Director of Youngstown Cultural Arts Center and Chair, Seattle Arts Commission and a Few Good Friends

Randy Engstrom is a dynamic arts leader with a vision for the new frontier. Originally from Chicago, he first arrived in the west in 1995 to attend Evergreen State College and moved on to Seattle post-graduation. During his time in the Pacific Northwest region he has helped found numerous creative ventures and organizations including serving as the Founding Director of the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center and Chair of the Seattle Arts Commission. Randy continues to develop innovative programs that help support and nurture vibrant communities through his consulting practice, Reflex Strategies.

The Record Store is a temporary extension of the Theaster Gates show housed in a storefront in Pioneer Square. A collaboration between SAM and Olson Kundig Architects, the Record Store is open for the general public to browse the robust collection of records and play albums for the entire store or listen in a small group.

While nothing is for sale in the store, the exchange of ideas and concerns is encouraged. The goal is for the Record Store to function as a cultural commons where ideas, issues and moments in time are discussed, debated or responded to.

The Record Store will feature a series of “listening parties” with guest DJs, artists, community folks, dancers, musicians, urban planners, activists, etc. Each “selector” will borrow from the same collection of LP’s or brings a few of their own records that act as the sound track that illustrates their ideas. Irruptions might take various forms including: debates, writing or dance classes, silent reading, tastings, workshops, to-do-lists or a sermon.

RECORD STORE LOCATION
[storefront] Olson Kundig Architects
406 Occidental Ave. S
Seattle, WA 98104

HOURS
Tues| Wed | Thurs
12 – 4 pm and 6:30 – 9:00 pm

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Record Store Listening Party Schedule for January 3-6

TUES | January 3
6:30 PM

Selector: John Gilbreath, Earshot Jazz and Seattle Art Museum Art of Jazz
Calling all jazz heads to the Record Store for an evening of intense listening, great conversation about jazz and the vinyl record with Seattle’s own Jazz aficionado John Gilbreath. The host of KEXP’s Jazz Theater, Gilbreath has been a rabid jazz fan since childhood. He has been immersed in the local and national jazz and performing arts scene for the last 12 years as executive director of Earshot Jazz, Seattle’s no-profit jazz-support organization. He oversees Earshot’s monthly publication and educational programs, and has produced more than 1,000 far-reaching Read More concerts, including the Seattle’s annual Earshot Jazz Festival each fall. He actively works with various Northwest arts organizations and national jazz consortia and hosts the weekly Caravan show on KBCS, he curates Seattle Art Museum’s Art of Jazz longstanding series and, in his rare spare moments, is a student of stone sculpture.

WED | January 4
6:30 PM

Selectors: Jonathan Cunningham and Rich Jensen, Hollow Earth Radio, Last Night’s Mixtape, Metro Times Music Blog
Cunningham is bound to make you think, talk and move just as he does in on Hollow Earth Radio–the weekly radio show that features music and conversation connected to Seattle’s musical hot bed known as the Central District. Broadcasts “could include anything from Jimi Hendrix to Ernestine Anderson to Ray Charles to Vitamin D to Shabazz Palaces to Wheedle’s Groove or a conversation about gentrification…they aim to unearth a local gem each week from yesteryear that more contemporary listeners need to know.”

THURS | January 5
6:30 PM

Selectors: Davida Ingram (performance artist) and a creative group of friends
C. Davida Ingram (artist/writer) and a few creative friends (Christa Bell and Lara Davis along with Chicago based lyricist Marcus Ulysses Ingram) They’ll use the Record Store collection to explore sampling and loops as a form of social reminiscence and storytelling. Ingram is a cultural worker with a dynamic background. She is bringing a brilliant group of people to the Record Store to ignite participation in unforgettable creative activities that will bring warmth to the first week of the New Year. Other special guests to be announced.

The Record Store is a temporary extension of the Theaster Gates show housed in a storefront in Pioneer Square. A collaboration between SAM and Olson Kundig Architects, the Record Store is open for the general public to browse the robust collection of records and play albums for the entire store or listen in a small group.

While nothing is for sale in the store, the exchange of ideas and concerns is encouraged. The goal is for the Record Store to function as a cultural commons where ideas, issues and moments in time are discussed, debated or responded to.

The Record Store will feature a series of “listening parties” with guest DJs, artists, community folks, dancers, musicians, urban planners, activists, etc. Each “selector” will borrow from the same collection of LP’s or brings a few of their own records that act as the sound track that illustrates their ideas. Irruptions might take various forms including: debates, writing or dance classes, silent reading, tastings, workshops, to-do-lists or a sermon.

RECORD STORE LOCATION
[storefront] Olson Kundig Architects
406 Occidental Ave. S
Seattle, WA 98104

HOURS
Tues| Wed | Thurs
12 – 4 pm and 6:30 – 9:00 pm

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Teens exploring record players in Theaster Gates: The Listening Room at the Seattle Art Museum

Listen Up: Record Store in the Business of Ideas

I recently volunteered at SAM’s Teen Night Out, and one of my favorite moments was watching the youth interact with the record players in Theaster Gates: The Listening Room. This exhibition features a collection of thousands of records from a defunct record store in Chicago and transforms the gallery into a lounge in which visitors are invited to pick up a record and play.

Many of the teens I observed that night clearly had never seen or handled a record player before, but there was obvious delight in figuring out how to use the machines and of being able to actually touch things at a museum.

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