Sound Art: Hear Our Houston Documents the Bayou City Through Field Recordings

Hear Our Houston acts as sort of a reincarnated Alan Lomax.

For the past few months, a group of amateur sound capturers have been walking around the expansive city and documenting, through keen eyes and lo-fi audio recordings, certain daily experiences that busy bodies aren't just going to take the time to notice or appreciate.

"Houston is a city of great but hidden richness only truly discovered by experience and word of mouth," writes the group on its website. "In a place where walking is nearly a radical act, Hear Our Houston is excavating some of those hidden gems, layering meaning into geography, preserving our oral history, and celebrating our common sense of space.

Lomax, the late ethnomusicologist (by the way, the Press' very own John Nova Lomax is related to the American folklorist), is often dubbed the pioneer of field recording. Many of his documents can be found in reissued CD box sets (we recommend Alan Lomax in Haiti) as well as on various LPs on Mississippi Records.

Hear Our Houston can't yet brandish an expansive catalog, but they're working on it. Rice Design Alliance's OffCite blog features links to several streamable MP3s.

As far as the execution, some of the chatter becomes a bit humdrum, but that could be the perspective of the thing. Meaning a current Houston resident listening to a woman talking about orange cats crossing her path may not be too thrilling. However, if you're a human being living hundreds of years in the future and you hear a voyeur-like narrator documenting Hillcroft and the First Ward, then it's possible that you just stumbled on audio gold.

In August, Hear Our Houston will conduct a "public generated audio walking tour." Then, in September, the group will have a launch party and tour hub opening at Project Row Houses. Details remain sketchy on both shindigs because, as of the time this post was published, Art Attack's interview request had not been returned. Maybe they were out excavating sound?

For details, check out the Hear Our Houston website.

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Steve Jansen is a contributing writer for the Houston Press.
Contact: Steve Jansen