A local artist facilitates personalized ringtones. | Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

A local artist facilitates personalized ringtones.

In just a few weeks, I'll no longer have to answer my cell phone to the sound of Verizon Wireless Melody 6. Instead, every time somebody calls me, I'll get to experience the sonorous rumble of skittering tenpins.

This is thanks to Teresa Foley, a media-literacy teacher and artist who since April has been trekking around Pittsburgh collecting 'Burgh-based sounds that she fashions into ringtones.

"As an artist I'm very interested in proliferating the personalization of technology," said Foley. "I've taught people how to kick ass with their video cameras before, but this project is really exciting because cell phones are so portable."

Foley's happy to design a ringtone free for anybody with a good idea through June as part of Locally Toned, a nonprofit, public-art venture backed by East Liberty-based media-design firm deeplocal.

"If I've got the time, if it's safe, I'm up for it," she said.

Foley and I met at Lawrenceville's Arsenal Lanes on a Saturday morning to collect the raw materials for my bowling tone. Foley suggested arriving early to maximize our chances of capturing pure sounds.

Everything she needed fit in a small tote -- an mp3/wav recorder, Sennheiser headphones and a microphone pistol-grip that lets her record in hard-to-reach places.

My marginal bowling skills afforded us a wide array of sounds, which Foley said she could isolate and rearrange to create either a montage or a linear sequence that represented, say, bowling a spare.

Afterward, she had me pose with my neon-laced bowling shoes and took my picture for the Locally Toned Web site. Once it's up and running, at month's end, the site will provide Pittsburghers with an eclectic library of free, original sounds. The tones she's designed thus far include a "Let's Go Pens" chant, assorted farm-animal noises and the babbling of a re-circuited Furby.

"I wanted to confront a system of commerce with one of shared creativity," she said.

Each tone will appear as a dot on the site's map of Pittsburgh. Anyone who clicks on the bowling dot, for example, will be able to read about Arsenal Lanes and my affinity for the sound of bowling pins.

Foley requested that we conduct our post-Arsenal interview at a "caffeine place." At nearby Dozen Bake Shop, she told me what she's learned about the relationship between Pittsburghers and their ears.

"Some of the ringtones have had a visceral effect on people," she said. "It's very Pavlovian. One tone made somebody cry. One tone made somebody salivate. It's been interesting to see what sounds are important to people."

Foley's dream is to take the project (www.locallytoned.org) global.

"This is a total fantasy, but I'd like to get a Locally Toned van and go to different towns to find out what sounds resonate with people," she said. "I'm interested in any place where people feel it might be a contribution to their community. I want this project to be joyful and useful to others."


Locally Toned Open Recording Session 4-9 p.m. Wed., June 17. Encyclopedia Destructica Studios 156 41st St., Lawrenceville. Free. 412-904-3098. To participate in Locally Toned otherwise, contact locallytoned@gmail.com

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