Sweet Pass Sculpture Park’s Away Message is a sonic snapshot of Dallas
By Adrian Cook
If you don’t know about Sweet Pass Sculpture Park, you should; especially if you value art that is visceral and, this critic would dare say, untainted by the inevitable filter of convention to which most artists eventually succumb. To be honest, I had never visited Sweet Pass until Dallas Art Beat became intrigued by an announcement for Away Message, a sound installation featuring pieces from 46 artists. The trek there was rather arduous, but the reward is a cocoon of sound that makes the journey worthwhile.
After fighting typical weeknight traffic on the death trap we call 75, sorting out a Google Maps glitch, which erroneously diverted me into downtown, and finally heading west through the stop-and-start car jockeying on Woodall Rogers, I finally made it past the I-35 exits – the place I lovingly call “where the highway ends.” This is where you’ll find the park, in West Dallas, which, in the sprawl of the Metroplex, is somehow still sparse. I felt like I was on the margins of the city here, as I pulled up, on a dark gravel road, to a set of padlocked metal gates, one side of each bent and hanging on its hinges. The park itself is closed for the “cold months.” It was dark, save the bight LED marquis inviting us to tune in to FM 96.1 to receive the park’s “away message.”
This is how Away Message begins: You’ve escaped the heart of the city. Now, parked at the entry of Sweet Pass, you look east over a desolate landscape, pieces of the Dallas skyline, like Reunion Tower reminding you they are there; but they are no longer imposing.
The installation – a string of seemingly disparate recordings – plays in a continuous loop, 24/7. Like tuning into the radio, you come in mid-flow. One does not begin at the beginning as with a YouTube video. The individual recordings that constitute Away Message take many forms.
My entry point was an ambient, environmental recording – the sound of a shop vac maybe, metal being scraped across a concrete floor…a space being cleaned and re-created. While seemingly a field recording, the sound engineering on this piece is carefully considered and executed. The stereo sound engulfs you. The scraping moves from the right speaker to the left, and the “action” is easy to follow. It’s dialed in for delivery on your car speakers as, at times, there are crescendos that, even at half volume, shake the vehicle. It was an apropos entry point. Away Message really does create a space with sound.
This deliberate engineering is consistent, regardless of the type of sound created by each artist or group of artists. There are interviews, conversations, actual music, environmental recording that are musical, a comical acapella song about Dallas traffic, and an instructional voice straight out of a 1960s drivers ed video telling the listener how to live their best life. The recordings are decidedly diverse, even in source quality. Some have studio quality, while others are apparently channeled through a hand held recorder. But what unifies Away Message even more that the post-production is the themes that emerge from the whole.
Voices young, middle-aged, and elderly, talk about the past and more importantly, the future. There is a self-awareness here as artists address making art, specifically in West Dallas. There is an ongoing conversation about gentrification and the consumption of resources, both human and natural. There are conversations about space – the crowed city versus the more breathable margins of the metro. Keep in mind, these conversations are held with sound, not just words.
Enveloped within Away Message, I had the feeling that I had been invited to a party at which I knew no one. The listener does not feel excluded -- more…voyeuristic. The editing shuffles one figuratively from room to room to hear conversations, people making music, telling tales, and sharing a moment in time, united by a common experience that is, at once, the past, the present, and the future.
Away Message is well orchestrated that way. It is a testament to the fact that if one allows others a voice, if one listens, a common experience will emerge – from diversity, unity.
And don’t be surprised if, as you go back into the city proper and FM 96.1 goes to fuzz, you begin to miss the party sounds and feel as though you’ve just gotten back from an alternate reality of removed observation, of having experienced a sonic snapshot of Dallas that fades, like a Polaroid in reverse, as you drive back into your busy life.
Away Message runs 24/7 until February 23 at the gates of Sweet Pass Sculpture Park – 401 Fabrication Street, Dallas TX 75212. There is a “Web Version” available on the Sweet Pass website, https://www.sweetpasssculpturepark.com/awaymessage-lander.html. Please note that the web version contains additional pieces not included in the FM broadcast. Check those out too -- after you've visited the installation at Sweet Pass.