The Speaker Project Echoes

By 
Danielle Dreilinger
December 12, 2008
Ginny Fordham, a Berklee staff member, performs in the Speaker Project with percussion professor Steve Wilkes.
Artist Juan Angel Chávez built a room within a room at MassArt.
The artwork includes bottles for musicians to tap.
The installation functions as a live speaker, complete with cone.
Chávez uses found materials to make this and his previous Speaker Project, in Chicago.
Perhaps Teddy's there to create musical sounds, or perhaps he's just relaxing and listening.
From the outside, the traffic cone wall looks like a porcupine's back.
For his November 13 performance, Wilkes composed new pieces that would allow him to walk around the room and listen to the effects.
These traffic cones didn't come from an art supply store.
Photo by Brit Woollard
Photo by Brit Woollard
Photo by Brit Woollard
Photo by Brit Woollard
Photo by Brit Woollard
Photo by Brit Woollard
Photo by Brit Woollard
Photo by Brit Woollard
Photo by Brit Woollard

Jazz rooms, rock rooms, folk rooms—Berklee students find any number of places to play. But no weeknight gig or performance skills class could have prepared them for a speaker room—especially not one built from traffic cones and a skateboard ramp.

This fall, several Berklee bands got the chance to perform in a one-of-a-kind sound space: the Speaker Project at MassArt.

Chicago-based artist Juan Angel Chávez turned a room into a giant audio speaker by putting together found objects. Designed for musicians, the installation includes two eight-foot speaker cones and a wall of items to tap, including plastic pipes, bottles, and sheet metal.

A curator's post on the Berkleemusic.com gig board drew a number of curious Berklee musicians to the space—including Sam Dechenne, goli, Michael Greenberg, Hannah & the Bloodlines, Idiolect, Mondo Gecko, Yumi Sugimoto, and Whoarfrost.

"The guy's a genius, honestly," said Neara Russell, a fifth-semester piano/voice principal who performed twice.

Faculty member Steve Wilkes "had so much fun" at his solo electronic percussion set on November 13. "It was a wonderful afternoon of people and musical atmospherics."

The Speaker spurred them both to try new creative explorations. Wilkes composed new pieces that allowed him to, at times, walk around and listen to the acoustical effects. Russell described it as a "sonic playhouse" so reverberant "a snare hit would decay for five seconds or more," and brought friends to sing simple children's songs in a round.

"It was a magical experience, like being in a church," she said. "Our ears were really opening up."

The experience made Russell change her approach subtly going forward, "leaving more space for things to breathe" in her typical performances, she said.

Alas, after Nov. 22 the Speaker went silent. "I truly wish that the Speaker Project was a permanent installation. I'm going to miss it," Wilkes said.

Even with the installation done, though, Russell was reluctant to let go of the experience entirely. She said, "At some point, the dream would be for the artist to design a studio space for me."

Read Neara Russell's blog entry about the Speaker Project.