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Le Son 7 sound art gallery.
Photograph: By Rossilynne Skena Culgan for Time Out

At this new NYC art show, there’s nothing to see—only to hear

This sound art gallery is the first of its kind in North America.

Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Written by
Rossilynne Skena Culgan

Inside this new art gallery in Soho, there's nothing to see—no paintings on the wall, no sculptures on pedestals, no avant-garde video projections on screens. Instead, French sound art gallery Le Son 7 spotlights art you can hear. 

The gallery, which opened yesterday and runs through Sunday, January 14, features 29 audio installations, including five new works from artists across the globe. This is the first exhibition of its kind in North America. It's free to visit from 11am-6pm daily at 570 Broome Street; here's what to expect. 

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Inside the gallery, over-ear headphones hang off of music stands beckoning visitors to go on a sonic voyage.

Curator Andy Footner founded the gallery with Carolina Podestá after noticing that universities hosted sound art programs and wondering what those students went on to create after graduation. The co-founders sourced a variety of different types of sound art, some that lean more musical, some that create an auditory collage, and others that incorporate field recordings.

Even for the savviest art-goers, this experience might be a bit different than they're used to, but Footner says to fear not. 

Some of these works stretch you a bit, but they're all really nice to listen to.

"A lot are a little bit intimidated by the idea. It's kind of a bit provocative," he tells Time Out New York, "There's the idea of sound art being difficult, kind of pushing you to difficult places. Some of these works stretch you a bit, but they're all really nice to listen to." 

Plus, Footner has noticed something magical when visitors listen to the recordings: They don't look at their phones. 

"It's an invitation to take a bit of time and you don't have to do anything else," he said.

Indeed, the works feel gripping, transportive, and intimate. It’s hard to tear your attention away from their sounds—and then, when you finally leave, you may find yourself listening more closely to the notes and noises of the city.

A woman sits with audio equipment.
Photograph: Courtesy of sound artist Lesley Flanigan

Five must-hear pieces at Le Son 7 

Among the several dozen works, five pieces are being highlighted in this show, each one captivating in its own way. 

Joshua Tree soliloquy by Ann Magnuson

In a confessional-style recording, Ann Magnuson walks listeners through her desert property, extolling its virtues and deriding the developers and Instagrammers who are rapidly changing this unspoiled land. She describes the sun hitting the mountains and a bee's nest she comes upon. Snippets of her vocals looping in the background combine with a score by composer Alejandro Cohen for a truly arresting experience.

"I like the idea of sound. I like the idea of art," she says in the recording. "Whether the two of them combine to make art, I don’t know. But they will be making sound."

Vada by Talvin Singh 

At first, it sounds like water running, but the more you listen, the more you realize that's not quite right. Instead, it's the sound of snacks being fried on steel crockery. Recorded at a tiny cafe in Matunga (near Mumbai in India), that sound joins with gongs, bells and idle chit-chat until it all abruptly ends after five minutes. 

"As a whole, the intent with Vada is for sounds to fall in love with - like diamonds coming from the speakers - a beautiful sound recreating a beautiful, healing place," he said in an artist statement. 

Specular Demons I (NYC) by François J. Bonnet

If an episode of sleep paralysis had a sound, it would be François J. Bonnet's Specular Demons I (NYC). The Paris-based artist intends to provide access, via prolonged listening, to the infra-thin, liminal regions of our perception. Heavy bass-y notes feel like they're climbing into your ears for an other-worldly and yet deeply human experience. 

Oshodi Stock Exchange by Emeka Ogboh

This celebrated Nigerian artist transports listeners to a bustling Lagos bus station, a center of commerce that serves as a stark antithesis to the typical world of global stock exchanges. As a master pianist, Emeka Ogboh opens the piece by experimenting with the body of the piano, rather than the keys. As the 27-minute piece unfolds, the artist unfurls beautiful piano harmonies, overlaid with screeching car horns and loud announcements evoking disorienting enchantment.

Brisa by Beatriz Ferreyra 

This five-minute, two-second piece begins with the sound of horses' hooves, then moves into an array of chimes and bells for a stunning dialogue. The Normandy-based Beatriz Ferreyra is an icon in the musique concrète world who's still creating in her 80s. 

As she once said to a young composer: “Go to a city. Put yourself in a place and shut your eyes. You will hear the streets. You’ll hear the sounds of what’s going on and sometimes good electroacoustic structures. Structures between somebody walking and a car driving, or somebody talking happily. You have structure all the time and you have the space. The sound can be very far away, it can be near; it comes from the right and also the left. That is the space of electroacoustic music.”

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