On Oct. 20, the VCAM Maker Space buzzed with anticipation. That night, the Sound Museum Collective (SMC), a Philadelphia-based group that “holds space to reconstruct our relationship to sounds,” presented their first workshop of their on-campus residency on audio engineering. Students gathered around the long table to learn about Teensy, a USB-based microcomputer development system that the collective uses to create light sensors.
The collective is in the process of creating a sound room, a room that is designed to isolate sound. Their sound room will include light and motion sensors that trigger sounds and will help visitors explore their relationship to sound. Collective members showed students how to solder and students practiced the process, which joins different metals together, in order to connect sensors to the circuit board. SMC member Elissa (who asked to only be identified by her first name) confirmed that these materials will be part of the final sound room installation.
The SMC strives to make audio engineering and music technology accessible by hosting workshops and community partnerships where people can learn those skills—particularly women and trans and nonbinary folks. Part of the goal is to debunk the stereotype of who can be an engineer and to encourage accessible engineering for everyone. “A lot of us [in the collective] have come up with really big barriers to entry when it comes to experimental audio, but also just engineering in general,” said Elissa, “Some of those barriers look like gender or class, just having access to resources.”
“I’m always looking for ways in which students and members of the community can interact with artists from Philadelphia” says James Weissinger, associate director at the John B. Hurford ‘60 Center for the Arts and Humanities (HCAH) and operations manager for the VCAM building. SMC first came on his radar via Philadelphia animator Cybee Bloss BMC ’13, who had worked with VCAM’s DocuLab program. Last year, Weissinger organized a virtual event for SMC to present their work and the ideas behind the collective to the Haverford community. Since that meeting, Weissinger has been working to physically bring the collective to Haverford to work in one of the VCAM building’s Create Spaces. So SMC’s residency, said Weissinger, “has been a long time coming, and I’m excited that they’re finally able to visit campus.” The residency is sponsored by VCAM’s CRAFT initiative, a special grant that supports projects at the intersection of the arts and technological innovation on campus.
“I’ve personally kept up with Sound Museum Collective, and I really like the stuff they do,” said Harrison Lennertz ’24. “If anyone’s interested in anything related to music, I think this is a super cool thing to come out and see because [you] learn about different kinds of music.”
Margin Zheng ’23, a musician and composer, was particularly excited about the project. “I love learning about the sound room,” they said. “I love learning about the technology behind that.”
At Haverford, SMC hopes that their exhibition will introduce the concept of audio engineering and show different ways to engage with sound via light and motion sensors. “I hope [what the SMC is doing at Haverford] is inspiring in the way that it makes people, especially students, feel as though this is something they can do,” said Elissa.
SMC will be hosting a student viewing of the in-progress sound room, followed by a Q&A, on Oct. 26 from 7-8:30 in VCAM 006 Create Space. On Oct. 29, they will be hosting a viewing that is open to the general public from 7-9:30 in the same space. During their time at Haverford, they’ll also be collaborating with Associate Professor of Anthropology and Environmental Studies Joshua Moses on a field recording project with his “Introduction to Environmental Anthropology” class.