MANHATTAN — An ambitious sound installation with the seemingly ominous title, "The Murder of Crows," is the latest art piece to envelop Park Avenue Armory's cavernous 55,000-square-foot Wade Thompson Drill Hall.
Internationally acclaimed Canadian-based artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller weave together voices, music and sound effects into a three-part, 30-minute composition that contemplates love, loss and vulnerability from 98 speakers mounted around the massive space on stands, chairs and the wall.
They're meant to evoke a minimalist "flocking of speakers," Armory officials said, noting that the name of the piece — which runs from Friday through Sept. 9 in association with the Mostly Mozart Festival — simply means "a grouping of crows." Sometimes when a crow dies, other crows fly to the area around the dead bird and seemingly create a "crow funeral," cawing for more than 24 hours.
"The work conjures anxiety and suspense while inspiring a feeling of claustrophobia, before it releases the participant into a series of dreamlike thoughts," said Francesca von Habsburg, founder and chairwoman of Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, which originally commissioned the work for the 2008 Biennale of Sydney.
The Armory installation represents the piece's U.S. debut.
Three of Cardiff's own dreams are incorporated into the narrative piece, which used special recording techniques that reproduce the spatial relations of the original sound field, sometimes making it disorienting to hear the crashing waves, birds' wings, marching band or factory floor commotions wafting from the speakers.
The audience's focal point centers on a gramophone speaker — which plays Cardiff's voice recounting her dreams. That speaker is a visual trope from "Los Caprichos," a series of etchings by Spanish painter Francisco Goya, whose “Sleep of Reason Brings False Monsters" — depicting a sleeping man with owls and bats flying overhead — served as another inspiration for the work.
"'The Murder of Crows' draws audiences into a surreal world populated with wondrous and disquieting characters,” Rebecca Robertson, president and executive producer of Park Avenue Armory, said in a statement. “Janet and George have a keen ability to create narrative and conjure up imagery through the movement of abstract sound."
Cardiff's work has gained attention in New York before for such works as "Her Long Black Hair," a 2004 audio walk in Central Park sponsored by the Public Art Fund. She and her husband/collaborator, Bures Miller, have become art world darlings for their pieces that incorporate themes of voyeurism, dreams and mystery.
'The Murder of Crows,' runs from Aug. 3 through Sept. 9 at the Park Avenue Armory, 643 Park Ave., at 67th Street. Admission: $12 general; $10 students, seniors and groups. Free on Aug. 4. Free for Park Avenue Armory members and children 10 and under.