BUFFALO, N.Y. — Today, entire works of art are created out
of sound alone, producing a full and satisfying sense of place and
endeavor without the benefit of photograph, film, paintings, music
or video — although some works incorporate one or more of the
latter media as well.
One such sound artist is Ernst Karel, PhD, a social
anthropologist who manages the experimental Sensory Ethnography Lab
(SEL) at Harvard University. The SEL promotes innovative
combinations of aesthetics and ethnology. It conducts and sponsors
sound and audiovisual projects that are exhibited across Europe and
North America, and offers students assistance in the form of
production equipment and faculty mentoring.
Karel will present a free public talk and screening of his
unusual and engaging work at 4 p.m. May 5 in the Screening Room,
112 Center for the Arts, University at Buffalo North Campus.
The talk is a presentation of the UB Research Workshop
“Landscape Across the Disciplines,” which is funded by
the UB Humanities Institute. Karel’s talk is co-sponsored by
the UB Department of Media Study.
He will screen recent works, including excerpts from
collaborations “Single Stream” (with Pawel Pajtasik and
Toby Lee) and “Leviathan” (directed by Lucien
Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel). Work will be
presented in the context of the greater project of the SEL, which
was included in this year’s Whitney Bienniale.
Karel collaborates with video and filmmakers as a sound
recordist, mixer and sound designer. His work and many of theirs
give the audience an unusual and immediate sense of place, in which
complex, but unidentified natural and man-made operations are
occurring. They incorporate a rich sense of movement, exploration
and life lived beyond one’s own experiences — on a
Rhine River shipping port, in a materials recovery facility in
north Boston, or throughout the town of Bath, Maine, for instance.
They also provoke us to listen much more carefully to the
soundscapes of our own lives.
He also works as a mastering engineer, preparing a wide variety
of material for publication on CD, including folk music from
various cultures, spoken word, new music and electronic music; he
also has digitally re-mastered several Folkways recordings for
first-time reissue on CD on the Locust Music label. In addition to
his freelance work, before coming to Harvard Karel worked as a
sound engineer and recordist at the Chicago Cultural Center and as
engineer, recordist and editor at Chicago Public Radio.
Karel holds an MA and PhD from the Committee on Human
Development at the University of Chicago, where his doctoral
research traversed the disciplines of cultural psychology,
anthropology and ethnomusicology. His fieldwork-based dissertation,
“Kerala Sound Electricals: Amplified sound and cultural
meaning in South India,” is a study in the anthropology
The SEL provides an academic and institutional context for the
development of creative work and research that is itself
constitutively visual or acoustic, is conducted through audiovisual
media rather than purely verbal sign systems, and which may
complement the written word and quantification upon which human
sciences and humanities rely almost exclusively. The work produced
there includes film, video and photography, and has been exhibited
throughout Europe and the U.S. in such venues as the London
Institute of Contemporary Arts, the Kunsthalle, MoMA, the Tate
Museum and at major international film festivals.