Using words and sounds alone, two British artists seek to evoke nocturnal Pittsburgh | Features | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Using words and sounds alone, two British artists seek to evoke nocturnal Pittsburgh 

"There's a thrill to listening when you can't see anything."

Sound artist Scanner

Sound artist Scanner

The best time to view "Night Haunts: A Journey Through the London Night" is just before closing. The deserted Wood Street Galleries lend an apt atmosphere to this installation — a series of vignettes written by the British journalist and conceptual artist Sukhdev Sandhu about his real-life encounters with the under-acknowledged inhabitants of London's night: urban fox-cullers, cleaners and helpline volunteers. As his words creep stiltedly across a large black screen, you sense a solitary person behind it typing them, narrating the urban night.

 "My ideal viewer of it was somebody alone at 3 a.m. going down into a sort of tunnel of sound," Sandhu says by phone from New York, where he is a professor at New York University. Underscoring the work are soundscapes by acclaimed electronic musician Robin Rimbaud, a.k.a. Scanner. "It started in 2006 as an online project but with a really strong sonic dimension to it," Sandhu says. "It's hard to think about night-time without thinking about sound. There's less traffic. There's more echoes. Sound circulates in different ways."

"Night Haunts" is part of The City and the City, an exhibition curated by Justin Hopper (an occasional CP contributor). Sandhu's work exists in many formats — website, book, exhibit, a series of short films — and on Oct. 20, it will be presented live by Sandhu and Rimbaud in a special performance funded by the British Council. Its content will be customized for Pittsburgh. 

"It's kind of a sonic portrait of the city of Pittsburgh," says Rimbaud via Skype from London. "We only do it live once every couple of years, as it takes a lot of energy. Sukhdev needs to write new pieces that are inspired by and resonate with the city itself. I'm coming early to record lots of sounds of Pittsburgh that will be used in the piece."

Most intriguingly, the pair will perform "Night Haunts" in complete darkness. "What we look for in a venue is quite scary places," Sandhu says. "Very very dark, no visual stimuli. People often tell us what they're watching is a kind of movie created by the words and by the sound." 

"There's a thrill to listening when you can't see anything," Rimbaud says. Sandhu adds: "The sound is disembodied. It's quite haunted, and that's the mood we're going in for." 



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