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Sound artist Karel to speak at UB

Published May 1, 2014

Entire works of art are created today 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, 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, North Campus.

The talk is a presentation of the UB Research Workshop “Landscape Across the Disciplines,” which is funded by the Humanities Institute. Karel’s talk is co-sponsored by the  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. Before coming to Harvard Karel also 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 of sound.