Unheard Sound Collective's Roadside Attractions Curatorial Statement

In considering the project theme, Roadside Attractions, I thought a lot about actual roadside attractions. These grandiose statements of civic exuberance often have a quirky charm and a carnivalesque sense of humor, transforming what might otherwise be gaudy spectacle into something more endearing.

I took note of two distinct types of roadside attractions: 1) Works commissioned by a town or RM, referred to here as ivi attractions, and 2) Works created by an individual citizen and displayed on their own property, which I will call ersonal ttractions. Civic attractions tend to depict, or are reflective of some significant feature in the area. They are in many ways a communal statement of value, a point of recognition for what is important in the lives of the citizenry. Over time, their iconic presence functions as a reductive symbol of that place in the imaginations of residents and visitors alike.

Personal roadside attractions tend to be more idiosyncratic expressions of an individual’s sensibilities. They often incorporate visual puns or absurdist visual humour and are usually constructed using materials at hand. Repurposing ready-made objects in sculptural assemblage can be read as a sort of unconscious Duchampian gesture, emerging organically from a decidedly Folk Art context.

The setting where we encounter roadside attractions is significant, particularly as it relates to driving culture and the idea of the oad tri. This includes our experiences and memories around travelling by car for a family vacation: the protracted sense of time passed in the backseat as miles roll by, the static-y radio and mixtape soundtrack playing through the car stereo. If we’re ‘just driving through’ we may only catch a brief glimpse of these attractions. That quick look from afar may be the ideal viewing distance and time frame for taking it in; if we take the time to stop, we’re confronted with the illusion dispelling truths of how it is built. We can see the white pillars holding the object up as if floating on the horizon when seen at a distance. We notice the flaking paint and rusting hardware, the makeshift repairs and (initials) + (initials) graffiti marking the surface. These beautiful details of decay evidencing the object’s history speak to the tension between the real and the illusory. The interplay of movement and stillness, our perception of distance and the granular nature of detail are all part of the alure of these attractions.

These themes and impressions played out in various ways in the audio works selected to respond the the theme of Roadside Attractions. The connections to the theme is more abstract in some cases than in others, but my comments highlight the points of reference which seemed most obvious to me. These connections are often impressionistic rather than conceptually rigorous as I tend to ‘feel my way’ through the selection process. Several of the reference points alluded to here are more about the unnoticed details about a place, seemingly trivial memories of a road trip from my childhood, the hidden reverse to the obvious nature of a roadside attraction.

I’m especially interested in sound works that balance texture and pulsed tonality in unexpected ways. Some of the works are predominantly textural arrangements and others are much more musical. Taken together, I’ve assembled this playlist as a soundtrack for a trip through an expansive sonic space.

Most of the artists whose work is represented here have been curated by the Unheard Collective in the past or, (without giving too much away too soon), will be included in upcoming programming. As our programming mandate focuses on ‘making the unheard audible’ by drawing attention to work that may otherwise escape notice, I hope the sounds to follow will encounter fresh ears and encourage critical listening.

Thanks to Jennifer Matotek and the staff at the Dunlop for including the Unheard Sound Collective in this project.

Tod Emel
Unheard Sound Collective

Elan Morgan