Every winter Sweet Pass Sculpture Park, the one-acre exhibition space in West Dallas, closes down. And every winter, while they are closed, the organizers host a sound exhibition created by an artist or group of artists. It’s called Away Message.
Since the park is closed, the sound work is broadcast on a low-powered radio transmitter. You can drive up to the gates of the park and hear it, any time, by tuning your car radio to 96.1.
This is the third year artists and co-owners Tamara Johnson and Trey Burns have presented the radio broadcast.
For this year’s sound exhibition, Johnson and Burns commissioned New York-based artist Azikiwe Mohammed. Burns describes Mohammed as a “savant multi-hyphen” since he does work in a lot of different areas – sound, music, photography, sculpting, installation art, painting, and “stuff.”
Their collaboration was a virtual one. With the pandemic in full swing, Mohammed could not come down to Texas. There were lots of phone conversations about the park and the area surrounding it, lots of history lessons about West Dallas, its development and relationship to downtown, lots of sharing of videos and pictures all so Mohammed could get a real sense of the place.
Mohammed’s response? Away Message III is a rich multi-layered looping composition consisting of field recordings and synthesizers and layering of natural and urban sounds creating an 18-minute, what Johnson and Burns call, “sonic journey.”
Listen to the artist talking to Johnson and Burns about the project.
Because Mohammed does long-form sound works and playlists and DJ sets, “we were kind of thinking that he was going to do something much more musical,” Burns said. “And then he came back with this sort of like sound essay that he had created with all these field recordings that he collected all over New York. I mean it was different than we thought but very beautiful.”
“Each time you listen to it because it is on a longer loop you kind of hear a different layer,” Johnson said. “Like you’ll hear the sounds of a swimming pool then you’ll hear kind of like a helicopter in the background. Or a kid kind of screaming like playing outside. So you get this sense of being outside somewhere, but it’s so collaged it’s not really like a place that you can say. ‘Oh, I’m at this place.’ Yeah, you’re kind of at multiple places at once.”
With this work, Mohammed said he “wanted to take the walls off the car” and give listeners the ability to float through the soundscape. And “to hand somebody back the vacation or the destination trip that they weren’t able to have due to us all being locked in our houses for the last year.”
Mohammed also designed a neon sign with a radio tower and the frequency 96.1 on it. He wanted it put up at the park. Johnson and Burns had it made and installed it at the front of the park.
If you’re not able to drive out to the park you can still hear Away Message III on Sweet Pass Sculpture Park’s website.
Although, if you do make the drive to Sweet Pass, “when you’re at the park and you’re seeing this neon sign and you’re seeing like the Dallas skyline because it’s wintertime and all the trees have lost their leaves, you can really get a good panorama of the city,” Burns said.
“I think it makes a really nice context for you to listen to these sounds and kind of think about the city and also, kind of be in nature.”
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