DELVE Interview: Halsey Burgund

Welcome to DELVE Interviews, a look into the unique paths of artistic and creative individuals. DELVE is an educational and coaching platform to help you get the business side of your career in order. We celebrate everyone's path as positive forces in their communities and share tools and advice we all need to meet our goals. 

Musician and sound artist, Halsey Burgund. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Musician and sound artist, Halsey Burgund. Photo courtesy of the artist.

This month we have been exploring ways to share your work with your ideal audience online and in person and wanted to introduce you to Halsey Burgund, a musician and sound artist living outside Boston. Both his installations and musical performances make extensive use of spoken human voice recordings as musical elements, alongside traditional and electronic instruments. In many ways, Halsey's work is a combination of socio-anthropological 'research', musical documentary and contributory experience. Recently, his work has focused on contributory location-based audio installations for which he developed Roundware, a distributed platform for collecting, organizing and re-presenting media via smartphones and the web.

Halsey has exhibited and performed in museums and galleries internationally, including the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, Puke Ariki Museum (NZ), Tyne & Wear Archive and Museums, Newcastle, UK, the Museum of Science, Boston and the California Academy of Sciences. He was awarded a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship to explore their audio archives for future work and is currently a fellow in MIT’s Open Documentary Lab as well as a Research Affiliate at the MIT Media Lab.

An installation shot of  Faint Earth Murmur  at Harvard University by Halsey Burgund. Photo courtesy of the artist.

An installation shot of Faint Earth Murmur at Harvard University by Halsey Burgund. Photo courtesy of the artist.

He currently is exhibiting his project, Faint Earth Murmur, an interactive exploration of the history of radio at Harvard University. Faint Earth Murmur aims to resurrect the long since lost in the internet-age, excitement and anticipation of physically tuning a radio dial to discover new stations and new sounds. The installation brings gallery visitors on an unpredictable aural journey of the past 100 years of radio via six themes ranging from politics to entertainment to sports.

Thanks for sharing your path with us, Halsey!



Can you describe your path as an artist – from where and when you began, until now?

I took a long time to focus my life on my artistic interests. I wrote a poem that became a song a long time ago that included the line “sneaking along a circuitous path” and I think that’s essentially what I’ve been doing in my life:

In college, I majored in Geology & Geophysics and generally was a science/math nerd. I took a bunch of music classes as well and played drum kit in bands, which was my primary creative outlet at that time in my life. When I graduated, I wanted to do something more physical than mental and I’d always loved working with my hands, so I spent a few years teaching myself woodworking and designing and building furniture. That wasn’t overly lucrative and I stopped doing it for money when I began resenting that all the careful detailed work I wanted to do to realize my aesthetic desires ended up being inversely proportional to my profits.

I began working in high-tech consulting and internet security and quit that after earning enough money to give myself a decent runway to give the art/music career a real go. I have not had a “real” job since then and it’s been over 10 years now.

What does a day or week in your professional life look like?

Sadly, I think I’m fairly typical in that I don’t spend nearly as much time as I would like actually creating new work.

I spend a large chunk of my time in my studio at my computer either doing logistical things like answering emails (or email interviews for blogs!), doing online research and various promotional activities like website work etc. I work a lot on the logistics of the various projects I have underway at any given time and I also typical spend some time managing software development of Roundware (my contributory, location-based audio platform) either for a specific project (sometimes art-related, sometimes more commercial) or for general advancement of the platform.

I offend conduct interviews of participants, listen to these interviews and slice them up into appropriate chunks for use in my work. And when I’m lucky, I get to write music to go with the voices.

Also, I have two small boys and my studio is at home, so quite often, I am invaded by their craziness, which tends to bring a halt to most of my productivity. I lead an interrupt-driven existence currently which is very challenging with all of my work, but in particular my creative work as getting into the “flow” is almost impossible. I hear when they get older, things will calm down a bit.

What do you do to promote your work and get opportunities? What are some challenges you've overcome in expanding your audience?

Thankfully I am at a point in my career where some of my work comes to me passively and I don’t have to generate all of my opportunities myself. I still apply for grants and actively pursue museum curators whom I think might be interested in my work. Sometimes I propose specific projects for specific museums/institutions and I keep a cache of project ideas that are looking for the right opportunity to become a reality.

I suppose I have overcome some of the challenges in expanding my audience, but it feels like there are tons more still to overcome. As a sound artist, a perpetual challenge is explaining what sound art is (which requires me to pretend that I know what it is) and figuring out ways of letting the public know that my work exists as it is often invisible. Sadly, I don’t have any specific silver bullets for expanding audiences, but I can say that I now allocate a much more significant portion of my overall budget for any given project to promotion/marketing than I used to. Things don’t tend to go well if that is an afterthought, especially since most of my projects require contributions from the public in order to become fully realized.

Can you tell us about an upcoming project?

I’m working on a project currently called “From the Mouths of Monkeys” which was commissioned by the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston. It will be an outdoor audio installation along a path in the Greenway, which is a new-ish park in downtown Boston that occupies the space previously occupied by I-93, which is now underground thanks to the Big Dig.

I am interviewing around a dozen people (from 0 to 84 years old) who were born in the year of the monkey – according to the Chinese Zodiac – and diving into questions of belief systems; zodiac-driven, religious, scientific, etc. The voices will be arranged with music in four sections that will be playing from speakers mounted on lamp posts lining an urban, though leafy, path.

The project is slated to open in July and will be up until late Fall.

And where is one of your favorite places to go to be inspired?

My extended family has a place on an island off the coast of Maine which I have been going to for my entire life and it for me is the most relaxing, motivating and inspirational place I’ve ever been. Thankfully I can return there often. It is beautiful for all of the senses and I often just go on walks or sit at the end of the pier and look/listen/smell/feel the wind and my mind wanders in ways I don’t allow it to in other places. I do a lot of work on the house and property - chainsawing, boat work, painting etc - which gets me in a different mindset and gives me a different sense of accomplishment and satisfaction which I find helps my creative work. 

I’m not sure if it is the decades-long connection I have to the place or the natural beauty or something less direct, but there is no doubt that this place does something to me that nowhere else least not yet.

Halsey Burgund performing “Ocean Voices” at the Museum of Science, Boston

Halsey Burgund performing “Ocean Voices” at the Museum of Science, Boston

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