Chris Williams. Pittonkatonk Banner, May 2015.
PTC is a binaural audio recording of “Pittonkatonk“, a free brass band barbecue in Pittsburgh, PA (USA). PTC was inspired by a desire to be challenged. I wanted people of Melbourne to experience being present in Pittsburgh. The audio was taken live and later digitally processed. The various layers of sound encourage the listeners to feel being immersed in the crowd.
Of course, the audio doesn’t replace the physical experience of the festival. There isn’t the feel of people dancing. There isn’t the smell of beer and barbecue. However, the listeners personalize the audio by filling gaps with their own experience.
Who do you imagine is there with you?
In the recording, the featured bands are the May Day Marching Band, the PitchBlak Brass Band, and the What Cheer? Brigade.
Among many others, curator Marita Batna and I collaborated on the project “Steel City and the Land of Oz“. In that project, viewers in Pittsburgh, PA (USA) and Geelong, VIC (AUS) could simultaneously see each other’s city through two keyholes. For the people in Geelong, their keyhole viewed Pittsburgh from the top of one of Pittsburgh’s tallest buildings.
“Steel City and the Land of Oz” was visual. The next challenge pointed toward the auditory.
I took cues from the natural world. The flora and fauna of Pittsburgh are intimately specific to the city. How about the feeling of being in a forest in Pittsburgh? To hear the birds and wind through the trees. I wanted to capture the sense of the organic in one environment and transpose it to another.
Pittsburgh is a small and lively city. Once known for producing much of the world’s steel, Pittsburgh is now a leader in many technological industries, such as sustainability and robotics. Pittsburgh has also become more attractive to the movie industry. It was a primary filming location for the movie “The Dark Knight Rises”. The stadium in the movie is Heinz Field.
As the temperature rises, people discover more places and events of the city. I remembered that the people and events are also intimately specific to the city. The sounds of voices through the streets.
In a public park of Pittsburgh, there was a free, annual brass band barbecue called “Pittonkatonk“. At the event, an attendee is surrounded by laughter, clapping, stomping and, of course, music. It’s an immersive environment.
I replaced the environment of a forest with an environment of people attending an event in a forest. The sounds of birds and people through trees. How could I represent that experience? The method is a binaural recording.
Unlike stereo recordings, binaural recordings account for the shape of the human ears and how that affects the perception of sound. The result is an experience of being immersed acoustically in the environment. With headphones, the listener hears sounds in specific locations around the body.
Of course, an audio recording is inherently limited. It’s removed in both time and space. It simulates the acoustic dimensions of a past event in a particular place.
Because of the contribution of Pittonkatonk to Pittsburgh’s vibrant music community, the City of Pittsburgh declared May 2 to be “Pittonkatonk Day“.