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What Does Pittsburgh Sound Like?

March 1, 2010

T. Foley, a resident artist at Filmmakers, presented her public art project, Locally Toned, on Tuesday, February 16th as part of the Library Conversation Series. The work explores the space where art, technology and society meet. It is a cooperative project in which you can participate!

Locally Toned is an ever-growing work in which T. Foley collects snippets of sounds from Pittsburghers, and turns them into ring tones. The goals of the project are many, one being to empower people to create and share their own media rather than choosing from prepackaged commercial media. Another goal is to gather aural snapshots of Pittsburgh, creating what Foley calls “sonic mementos” as a way to simultaneously document and interact with the city as a vibrant organism.

On her cite, http://www.locallytoned.org , all of these tones can be listened to and downloaded for free. Along with each tone is a story about the person who found or made the tone, complete with pictures. All the tones and stories are stored on an interactive map, allowing you to explore the sonic geography of Pittsburgh.

Because her project is open to all people to participate, it raises questions both general and personal. A general theme that is developed through Locally Toned is how the ambient sounds reflect the character of a city. Pittsburgh is bowling balls, pinballs, bike bells, hip-hop, and horns. She has expanded her work out beyond Pittsburgh, and has made a collection of ringtones from Valencia, Spain, which sounds like birds, running water, hearty three-kiss cheek greetings, and church bells. She will soon head to Berlin, Germany, where I imagine she will record the S-Bahn, the incessant rain, the Döner Kebab sellers, and other fragments of life that emerge from a once fragmented city.

The more complex life becomes, the more we need to refer to it by its pieces and find a symbol that can represent the whole. A homemade ringtone can function as a synecdoche, a compact reminder of the prevailing tone of your life. When presenting her work, Foley repeatedly asks her audience to think of sounds from their lives to use as ringtones, which makes you consider what sound would be your aural avatar.

The project causes you to reflect, then inspires you to create. T. Foley is always looking for new participants and new tones, and can be contacted through her website. If you have any ideas, she would be happy to meet with you, record your sound, and tell your story!

Check out the project at http://www.locallytoned.org . There you can listen to sounds, hear stories of local people and add your sonic footprint to the project.

The Filmmakers Library series meets every third Tuesday of the month. Check http://www.pghfilmmakers.org for updates on future presenters.

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