a murder of crows: janet cardiff & george bures miller in their park avenue debut

Outside the theatrics of a richly textured soundscape few spaces can acoustically accomodate, the site-specific use of the Armory by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller for their sound colab, The Murder of Crows, underwhelmed in my humble opinion. But my god what a behemoth of hulking brick the Park Avenue Armory is. I wonder if any single work could hold that vast space in its grip instead of the other way around. Don’t forget Wade Thompson Drill Hall is 55,000 square feet.

Maybe it was the attempt to create a center that just didn’t hold – conceptually or literally for me – that doomed it. A gramophone set atop on a spot-lit table surrounded by a circle of chairs. People sitting in them and staring at the gramaphone or at their knees. It was akin to watching some gearhead-DJ putz around on-stage with his computer while everyone watches and doesn’t dance (white people: can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em).

I think had they set up smaller environments or free-form arrangements of chairs where listeners could move about and/or inhabit provisional niches – with friends or alone – a more shifting embodied relationship to the space and the narrative/score would have ensued.

I’m a fan of Cardiff and Miller’s work, but my attention was constantly distracted by the dense cavernous shadows surrounding me, and I wanted to explore them. The guards popping in and out of their recesses to tell people not to take pictures though kind of made it seem off-limits. An atmospheric prop.

I think the conception of the work as a “sound play” is part of the problem. It negates a more interactive engagement to fetishize the acoustics. 800 individual computer tracks, distributed among 98 speakers.

Don’t get me wrong, the latter produced many thrilling moments: the haunting orchestral arrangements, Cardiff’s enchanting recitation, the surround-sound crush of reeling crows and thunderous ocean. And there were many references in the text and music to war and Goya and all sorts of things inspired by the history of the Armory. In the end though, my friend and I waxed rhapsodic about how great Cardiff’s show at PS1/MoMA had been and puzzled over all the hype about this one.

Anyway, my intention here isn’t to write a review. These are just spontaneous thoughts in the wake of having just seen the piece. The real reason for this post was to share some of the work with you (along with some related pics) because its still worth experiencing. Maybe not for $12 at the Park Avenue Armory, but that’s your call. All rights belong to the artists, naturally. The sound is compromised a bit by compression but still magical.

Cardiff/Muller/Murder of Crows excerpt
The Armory’s renovation is just as dazzling. Palatial, really. And you’re paying for that, too.

Still, when you walk outside and see the homeless women waiting by the building’s basement shelter to be to let back in for the night – many mentally ill – that splendor kind of sours. At least for me. My friend, an artist who takes Beuys’ notion of social sculpture quite seriously (and I adore her for it!), wryly suggested we submit a proposal for a show that takes everything hidden away in the Armory like some dirty secret – shelter and all – and fill Drill Hall with that. I’m game.

“The Murder of Crows” continues through Sept. 9 at the Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Avenue, at 67th Street; (212) 616-3930, armoryonpark.org.