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Prix 1987 - 2007

Ars Electronica Linz & ORF Oberösterreich

The Keening Towers
John Duncan

Sound is projected from two separate audio systems mounted at the tops of galvanized steel towers, each 24 meters high, set up in front of the entrance to the Gothenburg city art museum. Each system plays back parts of a piece composed for the installation using recordings from a 30-voice Italian children’s choir as audio sources.

The 4-channel sound is reflected off the museum’s façade and the arched corridor immediately behind it to create a multidimensional audio “cloud” of modified voices that cluck their tongues, whisper, scream and howl to listeners standing on the terrace around and between the two tower bases. The separate parts run 24 hours a day for 90 consecutive days, to constantly create new mixes without ever repeating.

The personal motivation for this project is to make a small gesture to give something back to kids, especially infants, that I’ve seen in my life who were victims of abuse by adults: a six-month old infant with its eyes bruised shut, a six year-old whose physical growth was stopped at eight months when her father threw her against a wall; to in effect give them a collective ethereal voice. I don’t think it really matters whether The Keening Towers communicates this aspect to anyone else—I’m satisfied that it works on this level for me whenever I hear the whispers, screams, etc., all made by kids having fun with their voices, moving as if they’re coming down out of the wind, at times whispering directly into my ear, at other moments morphing into sexual groans that for several seconds sound as if they’re being made by an adult couple hidden behind the museum façade.