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Pandemonium began for its percipients in a peripatetic confrontation with Eastern State Penitentiary. Located in Philadelphia’s downtown Cherry Hill neighborhood, the site was an operational prison from 1829 through 1971 then abandoned and reopened as a prison museum in 1994.  Its eleven acres are enclosed by imposing perimeter walls.  The penitentiary faces Fairmont Avenue, a broad east-west thoroughfare that turns to parkway half a mile due west along the Schuylkill River, where it winds past two other stalwarts in Philadelphia’s modernizing city infrastructure—the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Fairmont Water Works. One enters the penitentiary at its formidable south wall, a “severe and ordered” surface, 30-feet high and built of “long, very carefully jointed and coursed stone.”  Massive scale and medieval-inspired details like crenelated turrets suggest both fortress and ecclesiastical complex, “[injecting] notes of the heroic and sublime” consonant with its Romantic period conception. Within the walls, 15 cellblocks, constructed piecemeal between 1822 and 1959, reveal themselves gradually. From the prison yard, the visitor enters the outer limit of a cellblock and traverses its length to a large octagonal space. Here the penitentiary’s radial plan becomes suddenly clear. Cellblocks extend from this central observation room, like spokes on a wheel. Free of partitions, the hub provides sightlines down the central axes of seven cellblocks original to architect John Haviland’s (1792–1852) plan. Haviland conceived this design to promote, “watching, convenience, economy, and ventilation,” for the purpose of administering an especially hygienic panopticon.  Cellblock seven, where Pandemonium held court, is the last built under Haviland’s supervision in 1836 and, “arguably the most visually dramatic block at Eastern State Penitentiary.” Barrel-vaulted like a cathedral, cellblock seven is 356 feet long, 30 feet high, and crowned by three colossal skylights. 131 cells flank a central aisle at ground level and in recessed upper galleries. According to Cardiff, the artists chose this space for its “high arched ceilings, two storeys of cells and beautiful skylights.”  Cells repeat one after another in parallel rows, facing across an aisle. Narrow, rectilinear doorframes echo the orderly balusters of upper gallery railings. A balcony stretches between second-story catwalks, its sweeping vista culminating in a rounded, vertical window above the outer door, a luminous recapitulation of the cellblock’s overall form. The block appears perfectly symmetrical, partitioned into equal, isolated units much as the individual person within was to be smoothed and reformed body and mind to the civic ensemble. Order now crumbles at the level of the unit, however; inside, each cell is a picture of material disintegration.Being in the space is only obliquely suggestive of prisoners’ experiences. The site instead provides a visual record of ways in which history folds in on itself. The air is cool and damp, stilled by the museum’s conventional hush made yet more solemn by the subject of incarceration. When operations were suspended in 1971, Eastern State Penitentiary was left to decay until the late 1980s.  Its selective restoration as a “stabilized ruin”—a curious, late-twentieth-century adaptation of a Romantic conceit—rendered it accessible for tours in 1994.  Now layers of paint peel and plaster flakes from walls. Dust and odd remnants of furniture comingle in the cells, left over from multiple periods in the site’s 142 years as a dwelling. Cells are left in disrepair or selectively restored to approximate appearances at certain decades. Didactic wall panels mediate the visitor’s interpretation, as does “The Voices of Eastern State” audio tour, included in admission, with its blend of documentary detail and sensational information about celebrity inmates and the site’s use as a film set. 
Visitors more than likely heard Pandemonium before reaching cellblock seven.  Parts of the composition are terribly loud.  One might enter the corridor at any point in the sixteen-minute loop, beckoned by its sounds or following a tour route. How to attend, from which vantage and for how long, were decisions largely up to the individual. One person might stand transfixed through multiple cycles, at the entrance to the block or deep within the space. Another might wander up and down the cellblock for one full cycle, turn immediately to leave, or come and go freely, listening at a slight remove. The visual effect of the cellblock is so powerfully stunning, moreover, that taking it in may have, at first, overwhelmed efforts to listen. Pandemonium involved not only listening and looking but also moving the body and feeling vibrations of sound pass from the ground through the feet and through the air to one’s skin and hairs. These many simultaneous modes of sensing the artwork would have been impossible fully to disentangle even when they conveyed conflicting information.
The central trigger for this multisensory experience was music pulsating in the space. On the extant recording, Pandemonium’s compositional structure sounds deliberately untidy and ambiguous.  It progresses sequentially, indeed musically, with repeated, contrapuntal themes that build to a unified climax, but it also intermingles ambient noises to such a degree that the percipient wonders at moments if her ears might be tricking her into making sense of unintended soundings. Pandemonium begins with bass objects tapped in call-and-response patterns up and down the distance of the corridor (Track 1A 00:09–1:03; Note: expand the 'Annotations' tab on the Pandemonium audio player to stream by segment) followed by a similar conversation between treble things (Track 1B 1:04–1:39). This code-like rapping becomes a pulse for the piece, taking up residence in other themes and resurging between later passages. Next, taps diffuse into environmental noises that only tentatively suggest settling foundations, clinking wind chimes, or rattling steam radiators (Track 1C 1:40–2:22). These aimless, abstract sounds, so at home in a stabilized ruin as to seem meaningless, pervade the composition as much as the tapping, returning repeatedly to temper its associative power.Soon, these two modes blend. Sounds seem at one moment random and the next urgently significant (Track 1D 2:23–3:20). This urgency takes firm, narrative hold for a minute as bass objects crack like gun shots and mount to an alarming volume in the company of rattling treble, but it diffuses just as suddenly when they die off (Track 1E 3:21–4:15). After a few seconds of near-quiet, a double beat of bass drums advances. It reaches a pace like an adrenaline-fueled heartbeat and then ceases (Track 1F 4:16–5:25). An indeterminate, open period follows. Muffled stretches bring to the fore sounds of pigeons flying in and out of the ruin, but a moment later the corridor fills again with indomitable tapping (Track 1G 5:26–6:20). Discrete, repetitive knocks morph gradually into more grooving rhythms, overlapping as they build a dance beat (Track 1H 6:21–7:06). Suddenly, the dance theme is undeniable (6:33). As Cardiff described, “it feels like you’re in a rave, like dance music, like boom-chicka-boom.”  This brief, exuberant interlude, teases the percipient then concludes abruptly with four rounds of rhythmic pounding (6:55–7:06).Methodical ticking ushers in a resonant, repetitive gong like a clock tower counting the hour 24 times (Track 1I 7:07–9:20). Midway through, its timbre transmutes into a low rumbling, and its rhythm slows to an elegiac crawl. After a long silence, a low, clattering glissando rolls up and down the cellblock like batons dragged across bars then beat against an arsenal of timpani (Track 1J 9:21–10:10). An open, transitional period follows, this time featuring indeterminate noises that grow threateningly loud and seem to congregate (Track 1K 10:11–11:20). An eight-beat treble striker counts off, like a conductor or click-track, slowly at first and then once more at twice the speed, initiating a raucous, extended reprise of the ebullient dance theme (Track 1L 11:21–13:54). The dance beat rolls up and down the block in a second glissando, dissipating into ambient noise. Repetitive, unison blows fill the space and accelerate into Pandemonium’s climax (Track 1M 13:55–15:49), which sounds ultimately like a riot fueled by the libidinal release of the dance. Dance beat and militant noises engage one another in a master-level call-and-response before sounding a double beat and coming to an end. Charged silence follows (Track 1D 15:50–16:02) until the tapped exchange signals another loop. The cellblock announces itself as a totalizing visual experience, but Pandemonium coaxed visitors to look about themselves differently, in more localized ways, as they tracked the sources of these sounds. This iterative process of looking called into question the efficacy of the penitentiary’s visual schema in real lived experience, concentrating its possible nuances and uneven qualities. As Torchia observed, “Visual access to the cells is limited. Those on the second floor are completely out of reach and those on the ground floor are unusually dim.”  The grandeur and scale of the space solidified its impression of stillness, unperturbed by whatever was causing the sounds yet the sounds themselves exposed the falseness of this impression.  In her review of Pandemonium for Art in America, Carol Diehl corroborated a tension between the immediacy of the sounds and fact that they emanated from “unobtrusive,” “hidden,” and “unseen” sources.  In spite of its sublime reserve, the building itself was producing these noises, displacing its intended flows of power away from the singular center toward a plethora of actors emitting trajectories of sound in every direction.Black cords “trailing out of all the cells on both floors” compelled visitors to “walk down the corridor to investigate” the source of these sounds.  Their live quality was apparent, and percipients soon caught their makers in action. A single robotic ‘beater’ stood in each cell, snug to its object. Each robot had a distinct visual character, comprising an armature of varying height such as a microphone stand or metal bucket rigged to a wooden drumstick or pedal, Plexiglas wand, metal screw, or felt-wrapped mallet. These strikers were controlled by PianoDisc solenoids, little motors used in player pianos. The thin black cords snaking out of the cells wired the solenoids to a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) system with two computer-controlled, pressure-sensitive keyboards. Thick bundles of cable converged on one upstairs cell, revealing the presence of this central system there. Sinuous, rubber tubes spilled over the threshold with a menacing, organic character, like the tentacles of some nesting, alien man o’ war.  At the same time, their obvious electronic function suggested artificial intelligence, a DJ booth, or central command on a submarine or spacecraft. The robotic beaters were similarly evocative hybrids. They comprised disparate prefabricated materials, industriously screwed together to perform their singular functions. Posted one to a cell, these automatons became semi-anthropomorphic presences, their appendages thwacking objects with apparent deliberation.The keyboards each controlled one side of the aisle. They were wired so that each key sent electrical energy to a single solenoid, which converted it into magnetic force of a predefined pressure along a gradient. The pressure flipped a mechanical switch that pushed the striker into action to make contact with its object with a tap, bang, or crash depending on its setting. As Miller explained:It’s a mechanical thing. Every sound you hear is an acoustically produced sound, no speakers. A computer controls all these, we call them ‘beaters,’ that hit different things in each cell. And the way we composed it was that we had two keyboards connected to the system and every key was for a different room. Miller inventoried objects and charted their relative pitches. He added steel drums tactically to a dozen spaces to increase possible volume. His notes translated into a coding system for the keyboards that made legible their connections with the beaters. With Tonmeister Titus Maderlechner, the artists composed the sequence for the beaters to perform together and programmed it on a loop. Pandemonium’s noise multiplied and metamorphosed in dialogue with both the architecture of the cellblock and the bodies of its visitors. Drawn in by suggestions of a ghost story, percipients found themselves instead in the company of robots. Though clearly functional objects, the beaters were uncanny in their own way, seeming individually incommensurate with the force and tenacity of their collective output. They caused mute objects suddenly to resonate, and those vibrations traveled up and down, back and forth through the volume of atmosphere contained in the corridor until deflected by a wall or channeled beyond the block. With hard, angular surfaces, the acoustic environment was bright but also modulated with the fuzzier sounding-boards of visitor bodies, curving vaults, and moist dust piles.  Glissandi occur twice in Pandemonium, and in those moments, “every object in every cell [seemed] to be struck in quick succession up and down the block . . . like an x-ray passing through whatever and whomever stands in its way.”  Pandemonium offered a remarkably visceral experience of this environment, bringing visitors bodies into intimate contact with a building and world of things that could otherwise feel remote.
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Pandemonium—Sensory Assault and Deprivation
From 2005 to 2007, Canadian artists Janet Cardiff (b. 1957) and George Bures Miller (b. 1960) overwhelmed a cellblock at the Eastern State Penitentiary historic site with sound. They automated a live performance of real noises made by simple robots striking furniture detritus and pipes in the cells of this abandoned prison, which had once specialized in enforced silence and isolation. Ceramic toilets, iron bedsteads, and metal lightshades struck by screws and drumsticks rang out treble while wooden cupboards and a dozen steel barrels hit by felt-wrapped mallets resonated deep bass.  The looped composition comprised fifteen-and-a-half minutes of rhythmic music followed by thirty seconds inaction that framed environmental sounds. Beats emanated from cells up and down the corridor as if generated by ghostly inhabitants. Unfolding in a progressive narrative arc that accelerated to a thundering crescendo, the composition structured an interplay of communicative tapping and seemingly random organic noise, a call-and-response counterpoint of military-style demonstration and ecstatic dance beat. Pandemonium was also replete with pauses, discontinuities, and slippery sounds that resisted signification. It included the reverberation of this unstable acoustic environment, shaped as it was by atmospheric shifts and flows of visitors.  Pandemonium was a vigorous perceptual experience in continuous flux.This essay takes Pandemonium as its pivot point, examining through this one complexly resonant artwork the intersection of sound art and documentary the better to understand both fields of practice. In the first of this paper’s three sections, I offer an account of Pandemonium’s operations and relation to its site, Eastern State Penitentiary, which had functioned as a prison from 1829 until 1971 and was by 2005 a museum about the institution’s extraordinary place in American penal history. Renowned for its Romantic architecture, radial layout, and above all its controversial system of enforced silence and isolation, Eastern State Penitentiary presented an apt context in which to interrogate sound and the effects of sensory assault and deprivation on the individual and social body. Responding to these conditions, Cardiff and Miller, a married couple and artistic collaborators, produced a musical composition that oscillated between highly allusive sounds—conjuring an illusion in the cellblock that occupants were communicating, congregating, dancing, and rioting—and indeterminate, atmospheric sounds that continually morphed and undermined this haunting narrative.  What little has been written about Pandemonium presents the work as a clever reenactment of inmates’ real struggles to communicate during the penitentiary’s silent years, an interpretation according to which the artwork gives voice to former occupants and reactivates the prison’s history. I propose instead that Pandemonium’s peculiar mode of noise-making suspends the percipient in a rousing middle space between narrative and noise. I ask what experiences of Eastern State Penitentiary Pandemonium made possible that other forms cannot and whether Pandemonium might function as a sonic documentary.In addressing these questions, my project traces a relationship between music and representation, sound and realism. In the second section, this pursuit leads readers on an unusual art historical trajectory as I consider representational strategies in nineteenth- and twentieth-century music. Here I connect Pandemonium with narrative programme music and avant-garde noise music that foregrounded timbre, texture, percussion, as well as mechanically-produced sound, immersive extremes of volume, and popular music’s intense appeals to the body from blues to rock, punk, and techno. Sound is revealed throughout to be inseparable from its affective and somatic functions, a force of emancipatory promise and of violent threat with profound potential to mobilize bodies. Ultimately, I position Pandemonium as exemplary of sound art, a field of practices codified in the later twentieth century that use sound as the physical and semantic material with which to investigate space and the social configurations of bodies in environments.In a third section, I consider sound art against the “documentary turn” in contemporary art of the early 2000s that saw artists looking for credible forms with which to represent real events and experiences in all their subjective multiplicity. Taking Jeff Wall’s notion of “near documentary” as a jumping off point, I locate a relationship for sound and documentary in the radical sense of bodily proximity conjured by a binaural field recording technique at the heart of Cardiff’s audio walks. With a close examination of Words Drawn in Water (2005), an audio walk produced roughly simultaneously with Pandemonium, I argue that its hyperreal, three-dimensional binaural audio functions analogously to trompe l’oeil painting as delineated by Michael Leja.  By conjuring biometric sounds of footsteps and breath, Words Drawn in Water triggers a sense of closeness in the percipient’s body with that of Cardiff’s narrator, priming the user to be susceptible to an intimate, sensory experience of the environment in question and to the many concrete ways in which meditating sensorially on that environment make its continuities and interconnections across history palpably material. It is these embodied qualities of sound that I argue operates as a form of documentary realism in Pandemonium. At Eastern State Penitentiary, Cardiff and Miller triggered a sense of radical proximity through sounds concretely of the cellblock. It was this visceral, thickening of the relationship between the body and its environment that made the percipient receptive to Cardiff and Miller’s onslaught of references to noise music’s spectrum of potential. The percipient’s body was thus invited to become a medium through which sensory relations at Eastern State Penitentiary were felt to be material and present, alive and unresolved.Much is at stake in this project. As a temporary and intangible work of art organized ten years ago by an independent curator at a site not primarily focused on art history, Pandemonium is vulnerable. My project sets out to preserve its records as far as possible. Attending to Pandemonium proposes an interpretation of Eastern State Penitentiary itself that is rather different than the official narratives on offer by the site and its historians. Pandemonium opens the possibility that Eastern Site Penitentiary’s controversial system of sensory deprivation is neither so remote nor quite so fixed and absolute as it can feel in that imposing building. Rather than proposing to reactivate the penitentiary’s history, Pandemonium demonstrated that such administration of the body in society was in fact still an open question and made a compelling case that this condition could elicit in 2005 as in 1829 a spiraling array of potential affects and responses.More broadly, this project steps beyond easy categories of realism and abstraction, exemplifying sound art as not some formalist abdication the social commitments of the “documentary turn” but caught up too in interrogating conflicted truths of memory, history, and politics. In an effort to better understand sound art’s specific capabilities, I bring together English-language discourse that understands it loosely as a branch of experimental music with German-language discourse that codifies more definitively its distinct spatial, sculptural, and volumetric qualities while reorienting both to acknowledge sound’s tactile, corporeal qualities. Sound art thus emerges as a medium in which processes of sound, sight, space, and semantics collude both to function as and exceed documentary representation. Writing about the multisensory experience of Pandemonium, finally, is an opportunity thoroughly to reconsider the nature of aesthetic experience. There is no Pandemonium without urban planning, religion, penal philosophy, architecture, music, player pianos, robotics, psychoacoustics, atomic physics, and so on. Once we examine how this artwork actually functioned, of what histories and materials it was made, Pandemonium appears undeniably to conjugate sensory experience, to take sensory interdependence as its very subject.Essential to my study is an imaginatively proprioceptive approach to Pandemonium that acknowledges its deliberate appeal to multiple senses and its investment in affect as a mode of meaning-making.  To borrow a phrase from Caroline Jones: “embodied experience through the senses . . . is how we think.”  Indeed, attending to the meaningful interplay of sensory experience in Pandemonium proves key to understanding the work’s relationship to Eastern State Penitentiary, a place that worked to reshape modern society precisely by segmenting and regimenting the senses.  For this reason, I begin with an extended description of the artwork based on my own close listening to an artist-authorized recording of Pandemonium on headphones during visits to Eastern State Penitentiary. My description relies on installation photographs, interviews with the site’s public programs director Sean Kelley and independent curator Julie Courtney, and an invaluable account of the work by artist and project facilitator Richard Torchia.  This intermodal approach to Pandemonium helps us to grasp the work as a full-bodied, somatic experience even while acknowledging that it is, for that very reason, ultimately irretrievable.