Hear! Hear!

The first annual Megapolis Festival sounds off
By MATT PARISH  |  April 22, 2009

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BROADCAST NEWBS A festival pass gets you into DIY classes on contact mics and field recording, various performances, audio expeditions planned all over the city — even a slumber party.

The sound of smashing glass plays beneath a micro-cassette recording of children laughing, and Spanish instructions repeat while a chorus of monks narrate the proceedings in Latin. A man repeats a phrase once without using his tongue, once without opening his mouth, and once without using his larynx. Occurring like hiccups, tape edits reveal layers of moaning, glottal noises, and lectures on psychoanalysis.

This is a small sample of the audio work of sound artist Gregory Whitehead, and it’s his kind of attitude that Nick van der Kolk and Justin Grotelueschen hope to throw back into the public eye (er, ear) at the first annual Megapolis Festival, which goes down this weekend in galleries and lecture halls and the Cambridge Elks Lodge and on the city’s streets.

Radio producers themselves blessed with ample leisure by today’s economy, Grotelueschen and Van der Kolk decided now was the time for some inspirational vibes in the experimental audio community. “The fact that people will be able to get together for something positive and playful in times like this really worked out,” says Grotelueschen. “It’s a good time to get excited about this sort of thing.”

The centerpiece of the festival is a talk with Whitehead himself (it’s open to the public, as well, for a $5 charge) covering his infamous and award-winning career, but the festival plan is all over the map. A full festival pass can get you into DIY classes on contact mics and field recording, performances by theremin wizards the Lothars and real-time FM radio sampling by Radio Wonderland, audio expeditions planned all over the city, and even a slumber party on Saturday night.

“We’re turning old teenage sleepover games into audio experiments,” says Van der Kolk. “Like ‘Seven Minutes in Heaven’ — two people locked in a dark closet or bathroom with a microphone recording whatever they do and broadcasting it out to the rest of the party. We did a run-through of this a few weeks ago, and the girl I was in the bathroom with ended up peeing in the toilet.”

The inspiration is two-pronged: to show appreciation for great work already being done, and to invite festivalgoers to work on weekend projects and audio pranks that will turn the city into a life-size sound stage. One event will have participants following routes with tape decks to record AM signals bouncing around Cambridge’s nooks and crannies. You can also grab recordings from Ben Chaffee for headphone tours of the Red Line ride from Park Street to Alewife — the droning recordings are timed to bring out overtones and harmonics in the real-life sounds at each stop along the way.

Meanwhile, there’ll be workshops aplenty with well-known artists like Vic Rawlings, Bhob Rainey, and Mecca Normal’s David Lester to give you introductions to sound improv, electro-acoustic-instrument building, and circuit bending. Whitehead himself will be running a workshop with other radio producers. “He’ll be trying to take their material and tap into a different kind of voice for the story that doesn't exist in the mainstream for them,” says Van der Kolk.

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