The Hirshhorn Transforms Into a One-Day Soundscape

For one day, the museum will add an interactive soundscape to the works of visual art on display

DC Listening Lounge
On July 8, the Hirshhorn becomes a festival of sound with opportunities to listen to the solar system or use body temperature to compose melodies. Courtesy of DC Listening Lounge

The event is called Sound Scene X and will give visitors the opportunity to hear and create unusual sounds and music. Play a vegetable keyboard, hear bells made from melted-down guns, build wind chimes, and listen to musical performances. 

Sound Scene X is presented by the DC Listening Lounge, an arts collective which is producing the event in cooperation with the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

The one-day-only event is absolutely something to put on your calendar, says Jocelyn Frank, manager of the DC Listening Lounge. "It is an interactive audio event that involves construction, listening, and places to just chill and pay attention to a sense that isn't paid enough attention to."

"This year we want to make sound as accessible as possible," Frank says, noting that Washington, D.C. is home to the prestigious Gallaudet University, the world's leading educator of the deaf and hard of hearing. "So we've been working with accessibility institutions across the city," says Frank, "and thinking about ways we can build out our audio program in a way that helps everyone." She says that the programming will include vibrational experiences and other methods for translating sound. "We're going to be holding a vibrational tactile workshop the day before to show people how to compose music that can be experienced with the body."

One interactive exhibit involves drums with latex skins and PVC pipes sticking out through the tops.

"When you gently hum into this pipe and you pour sand on the surface of the drum, the sound of your voice actually shifts the sand on the surface of the drum that is like your unique vocal signature," Frank says. "It's just amazing to see something go from invisible to visible."

Visitors can take in performances by musicians from the National Symphony Orchestra and the Pan Lara steel drum band. Panel discussions will be offered and American Sign Language interpreters will be present.

"The great thing about all of these performances is that they let guests come up and try the instruments and see how they are constructed," Frank says. "They're going to be up close and personal."

The DC Listening Lounge has been producing Sound Scene annually for a decade. The event started out in a small community church in Washington D.C. This is its second year at the Hirshhorn.

"We were started in 2004 by a couple of radio journalists, who were a little bit bummed when they were making things and their favorite parts were left on the cutting room floor," Frank recalled. "And that has expanded to include coders, found sound collectors, musicians of all sorts."

"Sound Scene X" takes place on Saturday, July 8, 10 a.m.-5 p.m at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. The event is free but advance registration is recommended.

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