San Francisco, CA (October 28, 2014)—Alcatraz, the famous island prison in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, has held some of the world’s most dangerous people over the years, but currently a dozen jail cells there are occupied by something far less treacherous: Meyer Sound loudspeakers
‘Stay Tuned,’ part of @Large: Ai Weiwei, the latest art installation by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, plays poetry, music and spoken recitations through speakers within 12 cells inside the decommissioned prison. The overall @Large installation explores human rights and freedom of expression in the context of Alcatraz, a former federal penitentiary and now iconic historical site. Featured in The New York Times, Time Magazine and The Guardian, among others, the $3.6 million project on Alcatraz Island was originally proposed to Ai by Cheryl Haines, executive director of the FOR-SITE Foundation and curator of the exhibition.
“Ai’s work both awes us with its grace and beauty and challenges and critiques our way of thinking in a manner that we hope will catalyze public dialogue on many human rights issues,” said Haines.
The inspiration for the exhibition was rooted in the reality of Ai Weiwei’s life. Forbidden by authorities to travel outside of China, the artist created the works for the installation in his Beijing Studio. “The misconception of totalitarianism is that freedom can be imprisoned,” said Ai Weiwei. “This is not the case. When you constrain freedom, freedom will take flight and land on a windowsill.”
‘Stay Tuned’ is an intimate and evocative sound installation occupying 12 barren and deteriorating prison cells in Alcatraz’s A Block. The installation features different music or spoken recitations in each cell created by people who have been imprisoned for the creative expression of their beliefs, as well as works created under incarceration. Artists range from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to the Russian rock group Pussy Riot and the South African anti-apartheid activists The Robben Island Singers.
Driving ‘Stay Tuned’ are 12 compact MM-4XP self-powered loudspeakers with IntelligentDC technology. As Ai insisted the loudspeakers be invisible, they are mounted behind a rusting ventilation grate. Two MM-10ACX subwoofers support music by Iranian Arya Aramnejad and Nigerian Fela Kuti.
Sound design for ‘Stay Tuned’ was handled by San Francisco-based Moment Audio Group, a spinoff of Earwax Productions, where sound artists and engineers Jim McKee and Jeremiah Moore worked jointly with producer Starr Sutherland. “The quality and invisibility of the loudspeakers contribute to the work’s startlingly evocative effect,” explained Moore. “It’s only one person at a time in the cell, and the clarity of sound leads to a startling directness and intimacy.”
The MM-4XP loudspeakers also helped Moore deal with the limitations of the site. “We needed a loudspeaker with very low distortion, high power, and proven reliability, and the MM-4XP was ideal on all counts,” he said. “In addition, Meyer Sound’s IntelligentDC technology enabled us to run DC power for the amplifiers and the audio signal over a single cable from our equipment room 120 feet away. We didn’t have to sacrifice power and clarity because of long speaker cables,” Moore said.
@Large: Ai Weiwei is scheduled to run through April 26, 2015.