Parabox was created to be part sound installation/part experiment – an inquiry into what children hear when they are in an enclosed in their own private space and afforded the opportunity to author their own stories. This Read Aloud literacy event took place at PS 165 Robert E Simon School.
Parabox was inspired by a book on the history of peep shows, my interest in how people/children internalize what they see and hear, and an intriguing garage sale find … The Parabox was constructed of soundproofing wall boards and wood with a theatrical curtain. This mystery box was placed on a desk during a children’s literacy event (Read Aloud) at a public school in Upper West Side. During the event I sat with my laptop monitoring and recording the utterances of all those who entered the box. Participants (mostly elementary age students & a handful of adults) formed a line to get their chance to peer behind the curtain. This was not a timed entry and I gave minimal instruction. Once inside they were to just talk out loud and create their own oral narrative based on whatever associations came to mind while inside the box.
Behind the curtain, one encountered my intriguing garage sale find: Omni trainer machine (some kind of military vision tester) that displayed a series of visual/text collages I constructed. The idea was that each participant spent an undetermined amount of time inside the box – authoring aloud whatever associations came to mind. As we went a long I found out that for many of the children this was the first time they were ever really encouraged to free associate (let alone recorded). The Parabox was open on one side (closed with curtain) with two magnifying lenses rather than what one usually thinks (single hole viewing). The optical device contained inside had a motor and various settings that control interior lights that flash and divide the screen as well as an eye piece for magnified viewing. Depending where the participant focused, the machine revealed different qualities in the image. Each collage was attached to a plexi-glass plate that I switched manually.
It will probably take a couple minutes … be patient. (There are a lot of sound files!) Click here and you will get a sense of the event. This sketch cycles through 40 sec audio intervals taking random snippets of each story that was spoken aloud. You can move through the different audio tracks by using the space bar. Two different voices (each panned to an ear) are heard at the same time. The images correspond to the story heard. At the beginning of each story the image will flicker through three stages. Back lit, no light, light up. Just as the children saw the images. Each of the twelve image collages showed two different pictures contained in one (ie. when the light was off they saw one image, when on another.)