Category Archives: Ringtones

Posts featuring ringtones.

*Mobile* Ringtone Performance at the 2013 Americans for the Arts Convention


On Friday, June 14, 2013, I’ll be at the Americans for the Arts Convention in Pittsburgh doing a *Mobile* Ringtone Performance. My appearance is sponsored by the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, and I’ve prepared a very special series Pittsburgh ringtones for the event, featuring the above participants and/or sounds. The 10 new art cards include, from left to right: the Dilworth Drumroll Ringtone, Nermal’s Meow Tone, Erok’s Bicycle Bell Ringtone (2nd most downloaded tone in the project), Arrington de Dionyso’s Throat Singing Tone, the Uniontown Poultry Hall Ringtone, Balkan Babe’s Ja Posijam Lane Ringtone, the Welcome to Xenon Ringtone, Daniel Striped Tiger’s Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood Tone (most downloaded tone in the project), the Afro-American Music Institute’s Boy’s Choir Ringtone and the Homestead Train Whistle Ringtone.

What is a *Mobile* Ringtone Performance?

During this 100% *mobile* and self-contained performance, I use my cell phone and re-chargeable battery-operated equipment to broadcast and amplify select tones from my public art project, Locally Toned. I also pass out a limited number of art cards featuring photographs of tone collaborators on the front, and tiny URLs and QR codes on the back, so that users may download specific tones to their cell phones. All equipment (broadcast and visual media) for the performance is lightweight and “wearable,” allowing the me to traverse almost anywhere to perform.

Here’s a diagram of my ringtone performance get-up:


Here’s a sample ringtone art card (front and back):

This art card features artist Casey Droge and her cat Nermal

This art card features Pittsburgh artist Casey Droge with her cat Nermal


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Briony Clarke’s Tones (Banff, Alberta, Canada)


Briony Clarke, an artist based in London, is a recent graduate of the Royal College of Art, with an MA in communication art and design. She also has a BA in architecture and a great sense of humor. I met her last Fall at Experimental Comedy Training Camp, a thematic artist residency program which we both attended at the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada. Briony contributed two sounds to the Locally Toned Archive–a Whoopee Cushion Message Alert:

and her Newtown Ringtone:


Briony’s artistic practice is based on “the fabrication of Set Town–a place realized through archeologies left scattered by its inhabitants throughout the universe.” At the residency, she produced sculptural objects belonging to, and representing, a Set Town inhabitant called the Comedian. Producing practical jokes and preperatory toys (which Briony refers to as “a series of designed objects that prepare one for life experiences”), she made the above Wanking Form. The plastic toy, when shaken vigorously, emits a strange excited, ecstatic Banshee wail. To me, it sounds like someone saying, “Wake-up, wake-up, wake-up, wake-up.” Briony thinks of her objects as souvenirs of Newtown, “I’d love to see them in peoples’ homes, being actively used,” she said.


She thought of her second submission as an archetypal comedic sound. Her Whoopee Cushion Message Alert is appropriate for comedians and 9 year old boys everywhere.


You may recognize Briony from a previous Blog post. She served as performance artist Neil LaPierre’s Office Studio Assistant at Experimental Comedy Training Camp (helping out with his ringtone, too). Thank you, Briony Clarke for your humorous and art-related contributions to Locally Toned!

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Neil LaPierre’s Office Studio Alert Bell (Banff, Alberta, Canada)

Neil LaPierre is 6’3″, 185 lbs, an air conditioner salesman and a performance artist. I met LaPierre at The Banff Centre, within a thematic residency program, Experimental Comedy Training Camp. “I’m from Southern Ontario, Canada, but I ran away to art school in the Maritimes. My favorite dinosaur is the Tyrannosaurus rex. I have my own Blog and I draw inspiration from Tony Little, and Suze Orman.”

LaPierre’s Banff series’ ringtone is related to a series of self-help inspired, one-on-one performances he’s doing at Experimental Comedy Training Camp (ECTC). The concept is simple and fun. “If a person makes an appointment with my receptionist, they can expect a free, personalized and weekly-based themed session that lasts approximately 15 minutes.” Themes within the first month of the residency included Take Control of Your Life, Fantasy Week, and Total Transformation. Participants attending the sessions may receive light therapy, invent new dance moves with the artist, have their fingernails painted, or receive a harsh talking-to.

When The N. LaPierre Office Studio is open, the artist comes into work appropriately attired (suit jacket, shirt and tie, nice shoes). Mr. LaPierre is aided by another ECTC resident, artist Briony Clarke. His ringtone, the Office Studio Alert Bell is a sound you’d hear in one of these sessions. “When I’ve run over the allotted time with a client,” LaPierre says, “Ms. Clarke rings a bell to let us know the session has concluded.”

The gentle bell sound makes for a lovely text message alert. Thanks to Neil LaPierre and his assistant, artist Briony Clarke, for sharing their performative sound with Locally Toned.

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Jeneen Frei Njootli’s “Anai, Nakwaltuk” Ringtone (Banff, Alberta, Canada)

Jeneen Frei Njootli is a visual artist who works at The Banff Centre. It’s fitting that she’s contributed the first tone in the Banff series, for it honors Aboriginal peoples in Canada. “I’m First Nations,” she told me, “with some Czech and Dutch in there, too.” If you’re unfamiliar with the terminology, “First Nations” describes various Aboriginal peoples in Canada who are neither Inuit nor Métis.

“I was born in the North, my home community is in the Arctic, but I was raised in Prince Edward Island, and went to school in Vancouver. Having moved around a lot, I find myself drawn to the energies that exist within the ‘inbetween places,’ that I inhabit. Part of my artistic practice is an investigation of history embodied in land–I’m interested in exploring the idea of stories associated with a place through sound and image. In terms of sound, when I look at the land, I imagine the stories various places might hold, and think of some of the ghosts, or spirits that are present, there, too.””

Here is Jeneen’s haunting Anai, Nakwaltuk (“Come here, I’ll tell you something”) Tone. We recorded it in a stairwell that had great acoustic quality, within the Jeanne and Peter Lougheed building on The Banff Centre’s campus. Her ringtone consists of improvised melodic vocals–her response to the beautiful land in the area. It’s a sound that Jeneen has been exploring lately with her newly formed (and still un-named) band. “I recently got a loop pedal, a mic and amp. I was thinking about an economical way to spend the winter here. There’s always snowboarding, but it is expensive and potentially painful. Plus, I’m bad at it. So I decided to invest in doing something this winter that will allow me to interact, practice, have fun, and play with other people.”

Here’s wishing Jeneen Frei Njootli a musically inspired and productive winter! Thanks, Jeneen, for this first and lovely tone in the Banff, Alberta, Canada series.


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Doug Levine’s Mon River Dreams Ringtone: Remembering the Pianist-Anarchist Goldie Kinsella

Full-time and Mon River Dreams ringtone composer Doug Levine, left, and portait of Goldie Kinsella by Mary Mack Tremonte, right

In the summer of 1900, Goldie Kinsella played music at in a house just outside the walls of the Western Penitentiary to cover up the sound of a tunnel being dug from the basement of the house to a shed within the prison yard. The secretive construction project was funded by author and anarchist Emma Goldman, who wanted her associate (and lover), Alexander Berkman, out of jail. Berkman was serving a sentence for attempting to assassinate Henry Clay Frick, manager of the Carnegie Steel Company, shortly after the notorious Homestead Strike in 1892. Re-imagining this historic soundscape today, composer Doug Levine (above, left) contributed the Mon River Dreams Ringtone to the project.

As Wikipedia tells, it, “Newspapers across the country defended the union workers, and Berkman and Goldman decided to assassinate Frick. Berkman believed the assassination would arouse the working class to unite and revolt against the capitalist system.”

There’s a great article from July 1, 1937 here (excerpted images above), but Kinsella’s efforts were also described more recently by a Pittsburgh Post staff reporter Marylynne Pitz on January 20, 1997. Here’s Pitz’s report on the turn-of-the-century pianist as told to her by an “avocational turn-of-the-century historian” from West Mifflin, Gary L. Doebler:

“As the men continued their slow, arduous project, anarchist Goldie Kinsella sat on her piano bench inside the Sterling Street home, observing prison guards on the wall and passers-by in the street.

While [Eric B.] Morton [an anarchist with an engineering and mining background] and his crew dug right underneath those guards, Kinsella sat and played piano all day and into the evening to cover up the noise. Prison guards enjoyed the music.

The men even installed an electronic buzzer system that Kinsella used to warn them to be quiet. She played certain staccato chords to signal that the coast was clear.”


What does an attempted prison break sound like? If someone had asked me this question before I read about this plot, I would have imagined picks and shovels digging in the ground, or explosions. I would not have imagined a pianist on the job, to entertain and distract nearby guards. I wondered what kind of music Kinsella might have played at that piano on Sterling Street in 1900, and invited composer Doug Levine to create a brief composition recalling the event, to reference the history of the anarchist movement in Pittsburgh.

Doug Levine is a pianist, composer and music director–a supporter and member of the thriving cultural scene in Pittsburgh. He’s written music for City Theater, Attack Theater, Dreams of Hope, and the Renaissance City Women’s Choir (among others). Currently, he’s collaborating with an LA-based screenwriter and librettist, Julie Tosh, on a new opera called Orphan Train. Busy as he is, Levine also set aside time recently to compose and record a lovely little ragtime in remembrance of a little-known anarchist-pianist, Goldie Kinsella.

When I asked Levine how he approached writing the music, he said, “the story that you shared with me was new to me. It had these unique components to consider–anarchy, a jail break, and love. The colorful aspects of that story informed the melancholic tone of this composition.”

Because I couldn’t find any photographs of Kinsella, I asked the artist Mary Mack Tremonte to produce a portrait of the pianist the Blog.


A couple of years ago, when I was preparing to post the Western Penitentiary Whistle Tone, I requested permission to photograph the whistle at the prison, and to interview the person who operated it. The steam whistle blows every evening on Pittsburgh’s North Side at 8:40pm, at what’s now State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh (SCI Pittsburgh).

My requests were denied. The institution rarely granted admission to the press, and I had worked with a former inmate to capture the sound as a ringtone. As the former inmate explained his sonic experience to me, from inside the prison, the whistle literally restricted the inmates’ physical confinement (it blew when they were to report back to their cells). But now that the former felon was outside prison walls, the sound of the whistle (which he heard faintly from within his apartment) reminded him of his freedom. He wanted to use the ringtone as an identifier for his cronies he served time with, and I wanted to share the sound of the whistle with the broader public, as reminder of the forgotten, the incarcerated.

Frustrated that I would not be able to learn about the steam whistle from the institution, I went to the Pennsylvania Department at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh to root through the folder of clippings on Western Pen. I found no mention of the whistle in the dozens of clippings I read, but I found articles referencing interesting sounds associated with the history of the prison. I read about an orchestra at Western Pen, and found clippings about pianist Goldie Kinsella.

I’m grateful to Levine for playing along with the concept, and to Tremonte for providing Locally Toned with a sketch of Kinsella. To see and read about a drawing of the Western Pen whistle created by and sent to Locally Toned by a man serving time at SCI Pittsburgh, click on this link.

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Locally Toned in Mexico: Waves Crashing Ringtone from Akumal, Quintana Roo

The Mexico tone series comes to a close with this Waves Crashing Ringtone. Recorded  in mid-May at Half Moon Bay in Akumal, a tourist community 100km South of Cancun, the track includes the sound of the ocean reaching the shoreline and a somewhat gusty wind blowing.

In the Mayan language, Akumal means “place of the turtles.” Half Moon Bay is a wonderful snorkeling spot along the second largest coral reef in the world, and from May through October, it’s Loggerhead and Green turtle (nesting and hatching) season. During this time, the non-profit organization Centro Ecológico Akumal (CEA) sends out staff and volunteers to patrol the beaches nightly to identify and protect nesting females, nests, and hatchlings. During our stay at Half Moon Bay, we spotted new turtle nests every day on our morning walks.

Scroll down to see a few more photos of the Bay. Hasta luego, Mexico. Here’s hoping Locally Toned will return one day to capture and share a much larger tone series!

This ringtone recording session was made possible by a generous grant from The Fine Foundation.

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Locally Toned in Mexico: Frog Mating Calls, Macario Gómez, Quintana Roo

The small village of Macario Gómez (population 510) is 12km west of Tulum (the Mayan archeological site built on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean). Forested rather than costal, Macario Gómez is known for its craftspeople who make and sell high quality hammocks, wood carvings and organic honey products along the road that leads to the colonial town of Valladolid. Slightly off that main road, my partner and I stayed at La Selva Mariposa, a 4-room B&B featuring comfy beds, gardens, hammocks, happy dogs, and lovely water features (a waterfall, plunge pools and fountains).

As my partner and I bedded down for our first night, we heard some very loud (but charming) chirps and creeeeeeks coming from a fountain near our guest room. Our early May visit coincided with frog-mating season. Equipped with a flashlight, camera and recording equipment, we went outside that evening and successfully captured this Frog Mating Call Ringtone. This track features the sound of the running fountain and the calls of a frog. We heard the frogs make three different sounds during our stay in Macario Gómez, but we were only able to record two. Here’s the second sound–Frog Honks in a Fountain (a great honking sound, but I chose not to release this track on the Locally Toned distribution site, so download it here if you’d like to use it as a ringtone).

Because the frogs were still hanging around the next day, I was able to photograph them in the morning light. Scroll down to read a bit more about the amorous amphibians and to see more images from the grounds of La Selva Mariposa.

I sent my pictures of the amphibians to Dr. Richard P. Elinson (a biologist who contributed these Coqui tones to the project) to check whether these were frogs. Dr. Elinson replied: “People would call these frogs.  They have slimy, non-warty skin.  They are some kind of tree frog, since they have adhesive discs on the ends of their toes.” After digging around online, I wondered if the fountain frogs we recorded were Leptodactylus fragilis; the Mexican White-lipped Frog, permanent residents of the Mayan Rivera and beyond.

The fountain where we recorded the Frog Mating Call Ringtone. All of the water features on the property were designed and built by Lou, one of the owners of La Selva Mariposa.

The front gate leading onto the property.

The plunge pool nearest our guest room.

The pools were as sparkling and as refreshing as they appeared.

A steam-pyramid on the property.

This ringtone recording session was made possible by a generous grant from The Fine Foundation.

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