Artists find use for old cannery

Sound artist and University of Maine Associate Professor N.B. Aldrich (standing with glass) is breaking in a new Penobscot arts space with his sound installation Sine Wave Network. The installation takes a visual signal from a webcam aimed at Southern Bay Road and converts it to sounds coming out of 15 speakers arranged around the space.

PENOBSCOT — The large, white structure at 207 Southern Bay Road has been quiet in recent years. It functioned as the home and gallery of Dave and Carole Larson for 40 years. Before that, the Penobscot Canning Co. occupied the space.

But in the early summer, another set of creative types took it over: Leslie Ross, a musician, instrument-builder and sound artist, and Zeke Finkelstein, a writer and teacher. Ross and Finkelstein have bought the Maine property after many years in New York City (only Ross resides there now).

Now, the two intend to host a variety of installations and shows in the old fruit and vegetable cannery. To kick off the building’s third life, an installation by new media artist, Penobscot resident and University of Maine Associate Professor N.B. Aldrich will be showing until Oct. 5.

“Showing,” however, isn’t the best verb for Aldrich’s work. Called Sine Wave Network, his installation receives images from a small digital camera aimed at Southern Bay Road from a second-floor window, then coverts them into sound.

As that camera watches the street, Aldrich explained at an opening reception Saturday evening, it sends the information to a computer. The single visual channel then gets churned up in a network of circuits, converted to an audio format and sent out to 15 different speakers situated around the second-floor gallery space.

On Saturday night, as a crowd of 20-some people sipped wine and nibbled on deviled eggs, Aldrich’s installation would periodically emit hums, blips and blurps. To an untrained ear, those sounds recall the sonic fuzz that comes from an uncalibrated microphone.

Rather than delivering a real-time rendition of the visuals on the south Penobscot street, Aldrich said, Sine Wave Network was learning how to process and deliver a cross-sensory experience. To appreciate the system, Aldrich recommended returning at a less crowded time.

“It’s a totally autonomous. The system is creating the sound; I’m not creating the sounds,” said Aldrich, whose background is in theater and sound design. “In an environment that’s quieter than this, you could get a sense of the relationship between activities and sounds … After 20 minutes you’d notice patterns.”

To help visitors appreciate those patterns, Aldrich also has set up a monitor at the installation that shows black-and-white blobs, correlating to the sound waves coming from the speakers, which resemble a Rorschach test.

Another component of the installation is a series of pen-and-paper drawings by Brooke Wentworth, a George Stevens Academy student who produced them while listening to Aldrich’s system.

The Saturday reception closed with a performance by house music artist Al Margolis, aka “If, Bwana.” Ross joined him for the last song, playing oboe as rain began pattering on her roof. The cannery, Ross stressed, is open for business, audio, visual or otherwise.

Visiting hours: Sept. 7 to Oct. 5; 3-7 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, 12-5 p.m. on Saturdays, 3-5 p.m. on Sundays.

Charles Eichacker

Charles Eichacker

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
Charles Eichacker covers the towns of Bucksport, Orland, Castine, Verona Island, Penobscot, Brooksville and Dedham. When not working on stories, he likes books, beer and the outdoors. [email protected]