Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller testing Pandemonium.1 2015-08-16T19:46:42-07:00 Cecilia Wichmann 570c894159ad998517c62537a60758b7099e0270 5542 4 Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller testing Pandemonium. Photo by Sean Kelley, 2005. Courtesy of Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site. plain 2015-10-04T15:00:38-07:00 Cecilia Wichmann 570c894159ad998517c62537a60758b7099e0270
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Cardiff and Miller’s initial proposal for Pandemonium helps elucidate the connection between the work’s sonic force and its interpretation of Eastern State Penitentiary.  It suggests that Pandemonium’s sounds served a documentary purpose. Julie Courtney approached Cardiff in 2001 about creating an audio walk for Eastern State Penitentiary.  The site was preparing to launch its audio tour at the time, and Torchia suggested Cardiff for an intervention to repurpose its audio devices.  Courtney had just experienced Cardiff’s The Missing Voice, Case Study B (1999) in London and felt that the walk’s capacity for, “shifting [the user] between realities” of a given place would translate in an intriguing way to the penitentiary, which Courtney described as, “a perfect place for one of Janet’s signature walks with its mix of history, creepiness, and ghosts—a gorgeous, if heartbreaking, environment.”  Cardiff responded with interest to Courtney’s outreach, scheduling a site-visit for 2002, but dispelled the assumption that she would work in the walk format.  Cardiff suggested instead an installation related to Forty Part Motet, involving a local composer or chorus. Courtney and the site’s staff crafted a grant application to the Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative, seeking support “to invite internationally recognized audio artist Janet Cardiff to design a project for the cellblocks of this now-silent landmark.”  They outlined two possible directions for the project: a vaguely articulated “Motet form,” or as many continued to hope, “the artist may decide to create an audio tour, as she has for several other locations.”  When Cardiff and Miller visited Eastern State Penitentiary in December 2002, they were reticent about their plans but expressed strong interest in cellblock seven, which could not accommodate visitors at the time.  It required a new roof, repairs to the skylights, restoration of the balcony, and public safety features like emergency lighting and alarms.  The site got started on these repairs, using funds awarded in support of a project by Cardiff. Additional grants helped complete the stabilization in time for Pandemonium to be installed in April 2005. Cellblock seven opened to the public along with Pandemonium that May.Cardiff and Miller proposed an installation for Eastern State Penitentiary that would blend documentary-style testimony with sonic illusion of bodily presence through 45 audio speakers.  The speakers would occupy a “skylit cellblock,” each to a cell so as to “represent a person.”  The proposal summarized:
The piece we are conceiving would be a musical composition made of multiple voices and percussion instruments in a composition that would be a hybrid between a multi-layered documentary style audio piece and a polyphonic choral harmonic piece. The composition would reflect and explore the stories, history and ghosts of the site. The artists imagined a work in three parts, evolving from spoken testimony to choral song to percussion. After a collage of voices read quietly from writings about Eastern State Penitentiary, talking about its architecture and describing personal incarceration experiences, they would come together in song and then morph into “percussive sounds from the cells themselves such as banging on the walls and bars.”  The proposal outlines interplay between the individual and the congregation: “One of the themes of the composition would be the relationship of the singular to the communal, and the intimate connection of the listener to the individual but also the intensity and almost fear felt in being surrounded by a large group of male voices.”  To begin, “One voice would pass on a message to another . . . and build to waves of voices heard together as if they were praying.”  The second part intensified this feeling of congregation as, “singing would move harmonically from cell to cell and then join together at times in chorus.”  Parts would then merge and crescendo: “The composition would start very simply and build so that it would be quite terrifying and powerful at the climax and then loop to the silence of the beginning.” Many core aspects of this early iteration are residual in Pandemonium’s final form. Speakers inhabit cells as robotic beaters eventually would, and percipients direct their own experiences, “from many vantage points, for example from the entrance to the hallway as a traditional audience member would, or from within the work by walking through the sound as they pass the cells.”  The last of the three parts represented the same percussive textures through recorded sounds that Pandemonium ultimately produced live. Though it dispensed with the human voice, Pandemonium nevertheless maintained the interplay between individual and collective with its call-and-response pulse and dance and military themes. Finally, the compositional arc - from quiet beginning through terrifying climax - was identical to their proposed format. The proposal provides clear evidence that Cardiff and Miller knew from the start what kind of affect they were after for Eastern State Penitentiary and how they might achieve it in a looping sequence.Cardiff and Miller made a series of choices while developing Pandemonium that, in light of their extant bodies of work and initial proposal for Eastern State Penitentiary, raise intriguing questions about the relationship the work proposes for documentary and music. They refused the invitation to produce an audio walk in favor of a more abstract, spatial installation with choral music. This abstracting impulse was revised, somewhat, in the proposal, which integrated “documentary-style” testimony and choral music into a narrative of interpersonal communication, prayer, congregation, and collective rebellion. That the piece would now culminate in percussive sound, however, suggested a further move away from melody. The final version of the work subsumes all traces of explicit vocal narrative into textural, percussive music. Pandemonium seems at first the most thoroughly abstract and musical of Cardiff and Miller’s works to date, yet in opting for acoustic sound it turns out to be their most concrete.  Together these choices invite a closer examination of Pandemonium as documentary.