infrastructure song: sound piece





Crosswalk signal sounds are both infrastructure and culture. They sound like beeps or chirps or drums, depending on the city or town; there are even signals that are to the tune of folk songs in Japan. They are everyday wayfinding infrastructure and unusual bits of the hyperlocal soundscape.

I designed a sound installation that is comprised of a mix of these signals, and the piece was shown at Adds Donna in Chicago and at SOMArts in San Francisco. It’s designed to 1) create an encounter with these sounds that defamiliarizes them enough to hear them with new ears and 2) to ground their pragmatic use in the experience of pedestrians who use senses other than vision for their street navigation.

Here’s a review, with installation shot of the piece, in Art in America, ending with these words:

Sara Hendren’s Infrastructure Song (2019), a single-channel sound piece that plays on headphones, layers audio sampled from crosswalk signals designed as wayfinding devices for blind and low vision people. Beeps, chirps, and tones combine with the sounds of cars driving by to create an overwhelming orchestral soundscape that is dissonant and soothing in equal measure. The work raises evocative questions about the cues that move us through designed spaces. How have we been conditioned to tune out unspectacular technologies that are integral to keeping certain people safe? And whose bodies are still not safe? Hendren’s gesture, like many works in the show, recasts crip technological innovation as a creative practice.

Thanks to Izzy Harrison for fabrication and installation expertise.