Student Installation Explores Sound through Art

Ed Symkus
August 10, 2014
Electronic production and design major Chelsea Southard created Things/Time as her senior thesis.
Southard worked in collaboration with Roxbury's Diablo Glass School to create the installation, which captures sounds of abandoned MBTA tunnels.
LED-lit, mulitcolored glass shards make up the visual component of the installation.
Photo by Dave Green
Photo by Dave Green
Photo by Dave Green

From the outside, the white, eight-by-12-foot PODS storage unit in front of 1140 Boylston Street looks like any of the PODS (Portable On-Demand Storage) seen all over the city. But there’s the metal sign on one side that reads “Things/Time” (said aloud as “Things Over Time”)—the title of an installation by Berklee senior Chelsea Southard, an electronic production and design (EPD) major and a guitarist.

Inside the PODS unit, the change is more dramatic. The side walls are white; the back wall is a floor-to-ceiling wave of multicolored glass shards with LED lights behind them. In the daytime, natural light falls on the glass through the translucent plastic roof. At night, refractions from the LED lights show off the textural nature of the shards on the side walls. The visual component is complemented by sounds, recorded in old subway tunnels under Boston, coming from covered speakers.

Things/Time is Southard’s senior thesis at Berklee, and the culmination of her residency at Diablo Glass School in Roxbury. Southard, 24, recently spoke about her project, which was open to the public through Friday, August 15, 2014.

Where did the idea for Things/Time come from?

"I do a lot of exploring of abandoned urban areas. I toured some old military hospitals and facilities in Germany that were not in use. And I’ve gone to some locations throughout the Rust Belt of the United States. They’re spaces that have deteriorated and decayed. They have this ability to capture a piece of time and to show time changing when you’re there."

The visual part of Things/Time came from your residency at Diablo Glass School. What got you interested in capturing sounds from abandoned subway tunnels?

"I see it as more of an approach of viewing sound, and giving someone an experience to take them to a new place and show them something that is not accessible to them. The MBTA tunnels I recorded in under Tremont Street are the first subway tunnels ever built in this country. That space is inaccessible. But through this project, if they can’t go down there, at least they can hear down there. They can sonically experience this special place."

Explain what you did at Diablo, and what went on in those tunnels.

"I joined Diablo as an interdisciplinary artist; I set up a studio and did workshops and classes in sound and light and electronics. And I worked with glass, making oversized spheres. The process was great, because you have to make the bubble really big and blow all this air out, and get all this energy within yourself into this bubble, and then you just smash it and it’s gone. But in return, you get these beautiful delicate pieces of glass that have the most amazing light refractions. The visual aspect of the project bloomed from when I would go into old buildings, and would see these large walls of peeling paint, of pieces falling over each other. The pieces of glass are similar to that. When I went into the tunnels with my sound team, we took four microphone setups, placed them in different areas, and we would record different things: the environment sounds, the interactions of us walking through the tunnels, the dripping water. We also took instruments down there—an upright bass, a trombone and a violin, and I sang. But it was all nontraditional sounds. There wasn’t any written music."

How did the piece come to be in a PODS unit?

"I was thinking about what the project was all about—how we choose to care for something or neglect something, or to renew a building or let it decay. Then I started thinking about PODS. People put either their most precious items in them—things that they’re going to move across the country with—or stuff that they can’t fit in their house, that they neglect. What do we do with our things over time? Do you keep them? Do you throw them away? What about these subway tunnels? They’re a precious piece of our history, and now they’re just sitting there, and no one goes to them, no one maintains them very well. That’s why I chose the POD."

What do you think people will come away with?

"I think it’ll be different for everyone. Maybe some people will feel memory, and some will get excited because they never knew about this area of Boston, and others will view it as more of a spectacle."

Watch a video about Chelsea Southard's "Things/Time" here: