Are We There Yet?

25 Jul, 2011

Are We There Yet?

Are We There Yet?, A Responsive Sound Installation, Ken Goldberg & Gil Gershoni, Contemporary Jewish Museum, SF

In the classic joke a man asks a rabbi: Why do Jews always answer a question with a question? The rabbi answers: Do we? Ken Goldberg and Gil Gershoni offer a contemporary take on the inquisitive impulse in this responsive sound installation incorporating social media, statistical machine learning, and digital sound design.

Search and questioning are at the core of Jewish identity. Jewish children ask the Four Questions at the Seder table and a Yiddish proverb states, "One who does not ask, does not know." The Talmud (the primary source of Jewish religious law) is a book of questions and arguments, not answers. The Talmud is a surprisingly contemporary model for communal conversation in the digital age. Open inquiry is fundamental to electronic connectivity and social networking: the culture of new media encourages participation and skepticism about the authenticity and authority of information.

As they enter, visitors encounter a voice asking a question such as: "Can we talk?" After a pause, other questions emerge: "Do you love me?" or "Is that all there is?" As visitors move farther into the space, the questions become increasingly contemplative. "How big is the step between believing and knowing?" or "If not now, when?" The questions begin to take on new contexts and meanings. Visitors realize that they create their own experiences as they move through space.

The ability of the installation to generate a unique auditory experience for each visitor is an exciting first, using new robotic algorithms and software that allow cameras to instantly adapt and spatialize audio to the movements of each visitor. Goldberg and Gershoni are working with a high-tech team that includes Perrin Meyer of Meyer Sound, the renowned Emeryville-based company that designed the sound for the Beijing Olympics and Cirque du Soleil.

Hundreds of questions have been gleaned from sources including the Torah, literature, and popular culture. Visitors to the gallery will also be able to propose new questions and see questions displayed via custom iPad-based kiosks with video animation.

Also, we welcome you to participate by proposing questions for the exhibition at the project website and/or by downloading the iphone app which will remain active throughout the course of the exhibition:

A responsive audio installation by Gil Gershoni and Ken Goldberg

The Contemporary Jewish Museum
736 Mission Street (between 3rd and 4th, parking underneath)
San Francisco, CA

iphone app (free), turn on speaker...


Major support for this project provided by the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Creative Work Fund, a program of the Walter and Elise Haas Fund supported by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and The James Irvine Foundation. Additional support generously provided by Meyer Sound Laboratories.