Megaphone Project sound extravaganza at LEAF this week


By Pete Zamplas –

The Megaphone Project, a chance for children of all ages to play with sound, will be a fun bonus to a variety of music, crafts and creative seminars at the Lake Eden Arts Festival (LEAF) in Black Mountain this week, May 9-12.

The project, put on by Australian musicians, is the latest venture of LEAF Schools & Streets (LSS) local arts education. More than 400 children interacted with the installation at Vance School April 30. The exhibit was in the the Wesley Grant Southside Community Center in Asheville for the next three days. On May 2, it drew a Grant Center one-day record 250 children, noted producers Lauren and Rus Snelling. Asheville recreation co-sponsored it.

The award-winning project is available for free to festival-goers at Spring LEAF. LEAF’s musical headliners include bluegrass great Peter Rowan, and Mavis Staples of the Staples Sisters, Latin band Ozomatli, and Steel Pulse with roots reggae.

Festival Executive Director Jennifer Pickering, also its founder, said the Megaphone Project is the “first big arts installation we’ve brought to the festival. It’s amazing, as not only a visual but auditory experience. The project reflects the spirit of Black Mountain College.” The college thrived in the Forties and Fifties, and had Albert Einstein as an instructor. It turned into Camp Rockmount, the LEAF site since 1996.

Uniqueness of the Megaphone Project is how “you become the performer, in front of family and friends,” Pickering said. This adds a community element. There are educational benefits, she added. “Learning transforms a person, boosting your self-confidence and skill level.

The display spreads out 18 red megaphone horns of varying sizes, shapes and sound tones within sight of each other. The layout and its location varies each day, at both local venues. Word is that at LEAF, optional sites include near the lakefront by Eden Hall and on greens between the lake and Brookside dance hall.

The largest megaphone is two meters long, with a horn opening of 500 cm, according to organizers. They carry a small one around, for a mobile touch to the exhibit.

Wireless sounds transmits, as with tin can phones. Acoustics alter voices. “Joyful manipulations of voices are naturally reinforced through simple acoustics,” Australian organizers Madeleine Flynn and Tim Humphrey (both musicians) and stage choreographer David Wells stated in a release. “Voices then mysteriously and ambiguously return, via our custom wireless audio network.” They said participants’ “interactive performance” is “their own invention,” for a mix of “sound and physical play, of private and public broadcast.” Humphrey and Flynn, collaborators for 20 years, state they “investigate sound in space through film, theatre, dance, public art and installation.”

“Your whole body experiences the art form,” LSS Jocelyn Reese explained to The Tribune. “You’re interacting, in space and time. You walk in. Your voice gets recorded, onto a sound-sampling loop. It’s part of the sound score, played back randomly” moments later. “There is discovery of how each one functions, from one to the next and next. You look at the visual composition as a whole, then explore its parts.”

The Snellings, avid LEAF patrons, enjoying the Megaphone Project in two Aussie sites and in Philadelphia. About 90,000 people have experienced it since its inception in 2007.

Lauren said the sound is not too loud, heard only near the set-up. She described the display as “incredibly magnetic” and compelling. “The horns really come to life as people interact with them, physically and vocally, changing the landscape and the soundscape.” She saw children peer inside the horns.

Lauren Snelling said people vary in what they say into them, from a simple “hello” to “yelling, squealing or singing. Once a person figures out that they can hear themselves ‘replayed back,’ he/she may try to create a unique sound so it is easier to identify.”

Snelling further told The Tribune that “to see, hear and participate in the installation feels like being a kid. An inquisitive and playful kid. There is a lot of joy, laughter, curiosity, fascination” and smiling.

Some horns only produce pre-recorded sounds. In the Asheville exhibit, these are from some 30 Owen Middle School student poetry readings or talks.

Reese, like the megaphone organizers, is trained in inter-disciplinary arts. She thus appreciates how the horns invigorate several senses, also how it appeals to various ages. “LEAF is a family festival. When Jennifer Pickering heard of this project, she was thrilled. She recognized it was a perfect match, for adults and children alike.”

For more on LEAF including to order full-weekend or daily tickets, check or call 686-8742.

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