The Art of the Needle Drop

By Tk Published on .

Steve Shirk, a sound designer at New York music/sound house Pink Noise, likes to mix art with his commerce, and we do mean art, as in a piece just exhibited at MoMA QNS - the Museum of Modern Art's new Queens location, which is subbing for the Manhattan museum while it's being renovated. The piece in question is called "Tower Hollers," by African American sound-installation artist Nadine Robinson, whom Shirk has worked with on several projects. According to a Pink Noise release, Robinson is examining "the tension between the use value of labor and the lived experience of individual workers," via a grid of 455 canvases sporting speakers wired to record players (detail seen here). The audio is a remix of two different sources, says Shirk. One being a variety of old work songs, aka field hollers, taken off vinyl given to him by the artist; the other being the Melachrino Strings' "Music for Dining" (you'd recognize it if you heard it), also off vinyl. In other words, "black" music and "white" music. Shirk's task was to digitally "manipulate the pitch and the length of the line so the two are melded together," he explains. Though we weren't able to catch the exhibit, we've heard the 14-minute master, and it's oddly beautiful. But the installation features 12 turntables on the floor, all spinning at random - Robinson duped the master onto vinyl, and the copies are playing out of sync. Does this make for a nasty din? "No, you can still sort it out," says Shirk. "There's a collage of sound coming at you, and it's pretty cool. I wasn't sure how it would finally sound, but it works."
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