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T|r|a|n|s|t|r|a|c|k is a sound installation in progress that combines the metaphorical meanings and functions of trains and sound tracks as well as the concept of transformative space in telling the stories of refugees in the United States.




The city of Utica, NY has a long history as a transit and manufacturing hub that welcomed immigrant populations. Reader’s Digest has dubbed it a Second Chance City because of its ability to re-invigorate its population through immigrants. From the mid 18th century through the early 20th century, thousands of Italian, Polish and Welsh immigrants helped Utica’s populations grow to more than 100,000. As with many northeastern Rust Belt cities, the late 20th century brought a steady decline to Utica. By 2000, its population dropped 40% from 1960. However, the past few years have seen a slowing down of that population loss, as new immigrants from Bosnia, Somalia, Vietnam and Burma have settled in the city.

T|r|a|n|s|t|r|a|c|k, a sound installation in progress, addresses the subtle change to individuals’ identities as they settle in a new locations, as well as addressing change that begins in their home country, through virtual metaphor and its definition of quality. It represents limitations of the migration of people crossing national boundaries; and how the journey from past to present, and then to future, creates invisible change in each community they go through. The work encourages interaction between diverse people to share experiences with one another. T|r|a|n|s|t|r|a|c|k also reflects how lives change physically through fast growth of public transportation and, virtually through today’s new media.

Project Description:

T|r|a|n|s|t|r|a|c|k is a sound installation in progress. The work refers to a train’s vibrations as it passes an old house, making its windows shake. The piece combines metaphorical meanings and functions of trains and audio sound tracks with the concept of transformative space, focusing on refugees’ stories in the United States.

A space of transformation is created, using a group of old wooden windows. The initial group was taken from the renovation of a house beside train tracks in Utica. For the installation, all of the windows sit on the floor in a line, similar to the construction of a train. As sound from a train, either real or recorded, comes up, the windows vibrate one after the other, down the line, until the sound of the train fades away. This refers to the movement of sound as a train passes and its vibration shakes each window. A window is not only witness to the journey from one place to another, but reflects transformative space through time via the materials and positions of each window, which represents the concept of ‘the virtual’ from a past, traditional perspective to the present digital era.

Along with the sound of the train, each window has a gentle recorded sound of refugees from Utica’s Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees. Each tells private, transformative stories that were taken from interviews from their English as a Second Language class. Some windows have a dialogue of refugees talking to one another from one window to another window, creating a space of communication. The transparent quality of the glass allows each refugee to hide their visible identity, and having only their voice as an invisible characteristic. Just before the train passes, the audience needs to come close to the window to listen before the louder train sound overshadows these words.  The transparent glass also depicts the invisible change in the city, as well as the situation of refugees, whom local people sometimes look through without interest, as though looking through glass.

Technically and metaphorically, each of the windows vibrates because of a tactile transducer, a type of speaker that generates low bass frequencies, which people can feel as well as hear. Each transducer transfers vibrations to the glass and wood, as each window functions as a speaker. Instead of only representing sound, they produce vibration, making each window shake. During the exhibition, when trains do not come, these old windows stay still on the floor, representing a gap and stillness in traditional media in a new media art piece.

The sound of trains in this installation can be from train stations nearby each exhibition space, or recorded train sounds from the station. People are notified of upcoming trains by the vibration and sound from each window, as well as the train schedule posted at the exhibition space. When each train passes by this group of windows, the position of the sound from each refugee on each window changes, similar to the changing position of people as they board or depart when the train moves from station to station.

T|r|a|n|s|t|r|a|c|k represents the virtual quality generated by a computer system to depict the sound of a train and voices of refugees. While the train sound symbolizes changing characteristics of places through mass transportation, the refugees’ voices telling stories of their journey is one of the most important invisible identities of human beings. Both reflect change in the transformative period of time.

Exhibition venues: The train station in Utica, NY, in 2016, then moving to other venues as a touring exhibition. The venues will follow the Amtrak Empire Service route: from NY Penn Station to Niagara Falls.

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