The physicality of a bridge is inarguable.

Great spans of concrete and steel are traversed millions of times a day by car, bike or on foot. Kevin Allen listens to bridges as well—materially—in order to play with nonhuman ways of understanding time. In Bridge (2012), he approaches as a tourist, in similar ways to farther-flung travels he launched in Southeast Asia in 2004.

“It became apparent that what I was recording was less crucial to me than the act of recording; holding a microphone for a duration of time allowed me an excuse to be there without any other purpose than listening.”


Kevin Allen, Bridge (10:58)


Allen uses contact microphones to imagine sound within a non-human framework. With these miniature nuggets of lo-fi technology, sound is transduced rather than picked up through the air. Extracting resonance of material objects themselves, says Allen, is another means of othering our ears. His work invites viewer-listeners to question sync- and async-sounds to explore new ways of understanding space and time.

You look as much as you listen through Bridge. Unlike films that have a strong soundtrack, Allen begins with sound and lets the images shadow, dip, arise. “I knew that with my contact mics, I was unlocking a rich sonic underworld and I was curious how to expand this into a visual context. The decision to make the film about three bridges was to give it an ethnographic bent. I thought about the visual and sound environments of these bridges as distinct micro-cultures.”

The artist's background reaches towards a methodology of observation over a long period of time. Biking from his home in Brooklyn to work in Manhattan allowed for repeated stops along the way to affix a tiny mic to hear the depth of what the bridge hears. Later, he returned to collect visuals with a super-8mm camera—technology that invites nonsync capturing. Starting with the materiality and the sounds first gave him a sense of the overall aural palate, which helped him to find the visual images that might have the same or a complimentary sonic feeling to them.

Labels are messy, says Allen, when asked how he defines himself artistically. ‘Sound’ artist implies someone working with software such as Max/MSP—something grounded in linear, algorithmic processing.

“If it didn't sound so pretentious, I'd go with ‘sound sculpture’ since my work feels grounded in the physical, material and tangible.”

The compression of action—time plus place—is key. Perhaps like Tessie Word's waiting so as to stumble upon a tiny sound that strikes a resonance, Kevin Allen's work is about waiting to listen deeply inside the sounds themselves.


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