Una Casa de Sonidos, 2013

download paper: Una Casa de Sonidos: Sonic Storytelling with Central American Refugee Minors

A partnership with Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development and Casa de Sueňos, Una Casa de Sonidos celebrates the richness of the medium of sound through sonic storytelling, bringing unaccompanied youth in the custody of the Federal Office of Refugee Resettlement into contact with a variety of audio production techniques. The sounds resulting from these experiments populate an interactive soundscape that responds to the presence and movement of visitors. Through use of custom software and live video tracking, gallery visitors experience the sonic narratives of Tumbleweed clients while traversing a space where every movement is observed. Sponsored in part by the Good 'N Plenty Grant through Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.

Casa de Sueňos provides case management and reunification services to unaccompanied minors in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a Federal agency that provides new populations with resources to assist them in becoming fully integrated members of American society. While living at Casa de Sueňos, youth have access to pro bono legal council, physical and mental health screenings, free clothing and personal hygiene items, schooling, recreational activities, and vocational training. As part of this vocational training program, local artists and educators like myself have the opportunity to expose youth to art making practices and to teach them technical skills.

The collaborative process I facilitated in the Casa de Sonidos workshops empowered and challenged youth to tell stories using sound as a medium. In these workshops, youth followed the process of creating their own novel instruments from start to finish. At the same time, youth also learned sound composition techniques used to tell stories through the medium of sound. Technical exercises included making their own pick-up microphones for instrument amplification, designing prototypes using common materials such as cardboard, and translating these designs into a polished and functional musical instruments made of wood.

To generate of ideas for sound compositions using the instruments they made, the youth started by drawing images based on the prompt “draw your favorite place and list all the sounds you hear there.“ They then spent several sessions recreating the feeling of being in these places using sound effects and music. To conclude the project, they learned how to create interactive, surround-sound environments using the Kinect sensor.

The creative process employed in Una Casa de Sonidos empowered youth to tell stories using the medium of sound. This process engaged them with hands-on activities in which they made and told stories with their own homemade instruments. In this way, youth had agency in guiding the content of their sonic explorations while also gaining valuable experience collaborating within a creative process. Ultimately, participants in Una Casa de Sonidos created a soundscape they could truly take ownership of, having constructed, from start to finish, their own house of sounds.

The audio recorded by participants in the workshops was presented to the public as an interactive sound installation. A custom vector-based algorithm, written in Processing and Max/MSP drives the spatialization. Visitors presence, position and movement around the space triggered different sound animations--including this "following" behavior. In the video to the left, I demonstrate this algorithm using the motion of his hand to simulate the movement of a visitor in the space. By lifting my left hand, I can cause the sounds to return to their "wandering" behavior. Listen with headphones to experience what I am hearing while performing the demo, recorded using a custom-built binaural microphone headset.