Secrets of the Magdalen Laundries
12-channel Environmental Sound Composition

©2000 Michael McNabb

The unique environmental sound composition for Diane Fenster's photographic installation Secrets of the Magdalen Laundries brings a psychological fourth dimension to the work. Twelve independent channels of audio are invisibly integrated with the materials of the piece (large-scale photographs printed onto hanging bedsheets) and surround the viewer with the voices of Irish women speaking their original Gaelic language. Four women from an Irish language study program were recorded in San Francisco and form the basis of the sound experience.

Almost all of the sounds are derived from these female voices, either presented directly or manipulated and processed using computer software, including the composer's own custom software algorithms. Despite the strongly musical nature of some of the sounds, no synthesizers or conventional instruments were used, only the processed and filtered voices. Also, in one case, the sound of ocean waves are gradually transformed into music.

There are two concentric layers of 4-channel surround sound, the inner one coming from the sheets hanging in the space, and the outer one from the walls. The inner layer presents fragments of conversational voices in a more direct manner. The outer layer, more distant and processed, represents the deeper emotional desires of the women of the laundries, transformed by memory and imagination. Additionally, four more channels of highly manipulated voices emanate from the washtubs. These sounds, triggered by the presence of the viewer, may be heard as a watery resonance of the washtubs - a secret communication across time from the objects which were such a focus of the women's work.

Experience this installation
by walking slowly within and around the sheets, allowing the sounds to envelope you and pass around you - pulling you into the secret environment of the Magdalen Laundries.