Tag Archives: Faith Adiele

Locally Toned and Ventriloquism

For the past few months I’ve been developing a new art project with a ventriloquist dummy. The experience has me thinking about ringtones and the concept of “throwing voices.”

I like a definition of ventriloquism that from an inspiring and thought-provoking book I’ve been reading, Dumbstruck – A Cultural History of Ventriloquism . The author, Steven Connor, defines ventriloquism as making voices appear to issue from elsewhere than the source. If that’s so, then Locally Toned succeeds as a type of electronic (or randomly automated) ventriloquism, when ringtones featuring voices go off on users’ phones.

Here’s an example from Faith Adiele, who shared her user experience story with Locally Toned readers (as a comment on a post) way back in May of 2009:

While on the road in Boston, I downloaded Momtone from an email onto my BlackBerry, and somehow it installed itself, unbeknownst to me. So I’m standing in a quiet bookstore in Harvard Square, trying to read for free, and my ride calls my BlackBerry. The entire bookstore bursts out laughing as Taylor and Peytie whine – with increasing volume – “Mommmm, mommmm…” I’m digging around frantically in my bag, unable to locate my phone. “I’m not even a mom!” I cry to my amused audience, at which point the clerk quips, “Well, that explains why you’ve hidden 2 little girls in your bag!”

As an artist (and media literacy practitioner), I work to give others voice through my creative process. With Locally Toned, an ongoing project, I enjoy learning about the sounds that resonate with individual–sounds that they want to share with others. Sometimes the tones are audio identifiers to express group affiliation (such as the Bicycle Bell Tone), or they are a form of cultural/collective memory (such as the Kennywood Merry-Go-Round Tone), or they are as a means of personal expression (such as Stuart Allen Braun’s Harmonica Tones).

In the new project that I’m working on for the 2001 Pittsburgh Biennial, I’m experimenting with non-traditional methods of ventriloquism, and am hoping to use social media as a tool to crowdsource “one-liners” for Hector the Dummy to speak in a set of performance videos that I’ll create this summer. The videos will allow me to explore concepts related to voice and voicelessness. This particular *leg* of the project, called ventwittoquisms, is a focused effort to experiment with voicing collective wisdom, humor or anxiety.

If you’d like to play with us (and if you don’t have automatonophobia–fear of ventriloquist dummies), begin by following the project’s Twitter stream (twitter.com/ventwittoquisms). There I’ll invite you to help me put words into the dummy’s mouth by Tweeting amusing, pithy or insightful “one liners” to be included in video performance works that I’ll produce this summer.

Prompts issued via Twitter by the dummy (this June and July) will look something like this when posted:

What’s the most encouraging thing anybody’s ever said to you? Reply with #encouragingwords.

Open a Twitter account (if you don’t have one) and reply with the appropriate #hashtag in your Tweet (in this particular example, the hashtag you’d want to include would be #encouragingwords).

If you don’t have/don’t want to open a Twitter account, you can Like Hector’s Facebook page.

If you’re curious and just want to watch, point your browser to this new (Tumblr) Blog (http://ventwittoquisms.tumblr.com/), or come to the Waffle Shop this Friday June 10th at midnight to see The Hector Can’t Talk Talk Show–an hour long performance I’ll be doing with the dummy as a kick off to the project.

And in the meantime, stay tuned and Locally Toned!

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Faith Adiele’s Kennywood Tones (With a Little Help from Jeff Filicko)


Faith Adiele is a good friend of mine.  She’s an author, and has lived in Pittsburgh for the last seven years, but she is presently (sob!) leaving town for a couple of years to become a Distinguished Visiting Writer at Mills College in Oakland, California.  When another Pittsburgher was unable to make a scheduled Kennywood ringtone recording date in late June, Faith stepped up to the plate (before trucking on out of town).  She loves amusement, plus, she had never visited the park that everyone talks about so excitedly.  Turns out she was the perfect Kennywood ringtone collaborator–she identified two distinct and iconic Kennywood Park (yet polar opposite) sounds for her tones from the amusement spectrum–carousel and roller coaster.


Going out to the park to record audio was quite the treat–largely because Kennywood’s Public Relations Manager Jeff Filicko was our expert guide.  As soon as we got to the Merry-Go-Round, we realized we were going to get on an awesome behind-the-scenes tour.


Interior View of the Wurlitzer

Interior View of the Wurlitzer

Jeff went straight into the “guts” of the carousel to find out what roll of music was playing (we needed to make sure we weren’t recording any copyrighted material), and what luck!  It was a polka roll.  Being half-Polish, I was completely delighted by this happystance (a very happy happenstance).



The carousel actually has a Wurlitzer Military Band Organ pumping out its music.  The instrument plays music in a fashion similar to a player piano.  It’s just that the “Band Organ” also has a xylophone, bass and snare drums.  I guess when I was a kid, I never noticed where the music on traditional carousels came from–I was too busy trying to pick out what animal I wanted to ride.  Here’s Faith’s Kennywood Merry-Go-Round Tone.


Faith sought Jeff’s expertise regarding the coasters that would make the most interesting sounds for ringtones.  Jeff first led us to the Thunderbolt, where we could get close enough to the wooden track to hear the “swoosh” of a good coaster drop and the accompanying screams of the delightfully scared riders.

Screamin' on the Thunderbolt

Screamin' on the Thunderbolt


He then took us to the Phantom’s Revenge (2001, formerly known as the Steel Phantom, a coaster built in 1991).  Standing underneath one of its very impressive drops, I was able to record the click, click, clicking of the Phantom’s cars ascending higher and higher into the sky before whooshing down smoothly to take people on the wildest of coaster rides at the park.  This Kennywood coaster montage tone is an edit of the best of the best sounds of the Phantom’s Revenge and the Thunderbolt.  The name of this track?  Tone Phantom Bolt.

High Up on the Phantom's Revenge

High Up on the Phantom's Revenge

We learned some really interesting things from Jeff about the rides Faith identified to be turned into ringtones.  For example, the Merry-Go-Round is on the National Register of Historic Places (a fellow named William H. Dentzel handcrafted every wooden detail on the piece in 1926).  American carousels rotate counter-clockwise whereas their European cousins rotate clockwise.  We also learned that amusement parks redesign and “re-work” roller coasters to increase thrill factors and/or keep coaster aficionados coming back.  The Thunderbolt (1968), for example, actually started out as the Pippin (1924).  Jeff pointed out the part on the coaster where the Pippin tracks meet the newer Thunderbolt tracks.  If you haven’t been on any coasters at Kennywood, this one, for its spectacular views while plunging down into a ravine from whence you can see Pittsburgh’s hilly and industrial landscape, is just breathtaking (and heart-racing).

Jeff Filicko and T. Foley

Jeff Filicko and T. Foley

After I realized how much Jeff knew about the park, I asked him if he’d also be interested in contributing a tone to the project.  Would he take us to a sound he thinks of as pure Kennywood/classic amusement park?  He picked the Bayren Kurve.  “I love the horn sound on this ride.  You can hear it clear across the park and parking lot.  I thnk it’s a good sound for a ringtone.”  I was thrilled with Jeff’s choice since up until now, the project’s not yet included the sound of any kind of transport horns at all.


Jeff explained, “The Kurve is what we call a traditional or flat ride–the themeing is a Swiss Alps or Bobsled ride.  This ride was taken out in 2005, and prior to that, it was in the park for 26 years.  We brought it back somewhat recently.  I chose this ride to share with you because it certainly represents a unique feature of what we call classic amusement parks.  We have all kinds of rides here at Kennywood.  What’s special is that we have the ability to take rides out for a period of time, put them into storage for a number of years, and then bring them back into the park.  That’s a feature of a classic amusement park.  A parent 30 years ago might have gone on this ride when he or she was a kid.  Today that person can bring their children and share that same experience.”  Here’s Jeff’s Bayren Kurve Tone.

Thanks to Kennywood, to Marketing Director Keith Hood, and to Mr. Jeff Filicko for showing us around the park!


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