Street Noise Sounds Like Art in West Hollywood

Staff Reporter

The last thing West Hollywood needs is more traffic noise. So why has the city hired an artist to provide just that?

As part of the expanding universe of "public art," New York artist Bruce Odland next month will install "Tonic," a sound piece that uses the acoustical qualities of aluminum tubes to capture street noise and play it back through speakers.

"The sound will resonate at even intervals and reduce it to overtones that are common to music of all cultures," Odland said. "It's a musical version of reality. I call it a 'protected harmonic environment for pedestrians.'"

Odland's work, to be placed near the Los Angeles County Sheriff's station at the corner of Santa Monica and San Vicente boulevards, will be one of seven installations erected along Santa Monica Boulevard for the city's "Edges and Hedges" show.

It's the first project in a $100,000 program called Art on the Outside, which was funded by the city and Caltrans through a mandated contribution of 1 percent of the initial design budget of the recently completed Santa Monica Boulevard rebuilding project. The seven artists who made it through the West Hollywood Fine Arts Council's selection process were each given $6,000 to create works for "Edges and Hedges."

The mostly whimsical installations including a giant lawn chair made of fake grass, oversized earrings dangling from palm trees, a massive coyote staring down at motorists and an old convertible turned into a planter will be on display for seven months beginning April 27.

"The idea is to bring the artwork outside where everyone can enjoy it," said Alison Maxwell, a development specialist in the city's Economic Development Department, who acknowledged that not everyone would find value in the works. "When things are conceptual, they have to be seen to be understood," he said. "And even then not everyone is going to get it."

And that may be the point.

"I was sitting in the office laughing as I read through the proposals," said Beatrix Barker, a consultant whose company, Barker & Associates Public Art Advisory, is working with West Hollywood on the "Edges and Hedges" project. "What we are trying to do is engage the public's sense of wonder. Art doesn't need to be high brow and alienating, it can be fun."

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