A “sonified library” in San Francisco

A couple hours a week I power up, play, and occasionally improvise with the sound installation that I’ve created here in San Francisco for Prelinger Library. These hours occur within the Library’s public hours, making it possible for visitors to browse the stacks with the unusual added dimension of sound — a parallel, library-like environment whose stacks contain sounds rather than books.

For the most part the sounds are fleeting and sporadic, sparse and quiet, and they are meant to enhance your browsing and exploratory experience in the Library; to enhance not dominate. Some of sound categories reflect specific topics in the Library, while other sounds are not representative at all. There are also distinct motifs that occur from time to time, like the sounds of doors opening and footsteps and nature. And there are occasionally longer fragments of composed musical sounds (“undulating beds”) that I scooped up from my sources or created specifically for this installation.

Prelinger Library Nature Walkthrough by Thom Blum

Friends from afar asked me to try and capture the experience of being in the Library while the sounds are running. I explained it’s a little difficult because of the spatial distribution and movement of the sounds. Depending on your location the sounds may appear to be mostly up close and coming from your right, or perhaps they’re more distant and behind you. But, armed (or “eared”) with binaural mics (SoundProfessionals Inc.) and my video camera (an iPhone), I started recording walkthroughs of the stacks while the installation was sounding. I would often go towards and into sections of the library where distinct sounds were calling out; topical sounds, for example of radio or protests. Sure enough I was lead to the expected subjects in the stacks.

Prelinger Library Civil Liberties Walkthrough by Thom Blum

In this way I have so far edited and stitched together three 1-minute “trailers” with binaural soundtracks (best heard with head/ear phones). My goal being to offer a rough approximation of the experience you could have while roaming the stacks at Prelinger Library at just the right time.

Prelinger Library Radio Walkthrough by Thom Blum

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