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Looking back: 9/11 Across America

The human voice--a powerful piece of artwork, and the driving force behind "Looking Back: 9/11 Across America," the newest exhibition produced by the Center for Documentary Studies.

Characterized as an "acoustic exhibit of American voices", the exhibition includes audio excerpts from average Americans interviewed about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. It is currently running at the Library of Congress and will make a special appearance at the CDS Sept. 11 through Sept. 14. The event will reflect on the human reaction to the Sept. 11 attacks.

"[The country was] oversaturated with images, and [we thought] wouldn't it be nice just to have audio? The voices are powerful enough and don't need images," said Elana Hadler Perl, who, along with Sarah Chasnovitz Trinity '00, produced the exhibit.

The gathering of voices immediately after the attacks was inspired by a similar call after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 8, 1941. Alan Lomax, then director of the Library of Congress' Archive of Folk Song, summoned all fieldworkers to hit the streets and gather reactions.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Peggy Bulger and Ann Hoog--director and reference specialist respectively for the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress--put out an urgent call for fieldworkers to "document the immediate reactions of average Americans in [their] own communities to the September 11 terrorist attack."

The result was over 500 hours of recorded tape from folklorists, students, public librarians and others.

"There were hundreds of hours of tapes from the Library of Congress," Chasnovitz said. "They were transcribed, and I read through about 50 tapes and found passages that really spoke to the different emotions that were out there."

Chasnovitz explained that the voices in the exhibition are unique because they were everyday American voices talking to people they knew as opposed to the media. "It's people who know each other interviewing their peers rather than someone speaking to a reporter.... This can make things more intimate," she said.

Sifting through the hours upon hours of tape was not an easy task. "It was difficult for me... and it was a little bit different in my case because I had just come back from being overseas for a year," Chasnovitz said. "Feelings had changed over the course of the year [without me] and now people have started to come to terms with the fact that it actually happened."

But, Chasnovitz explained that as she began working, certain comments emerged as the obvious clips to include.

"There were tapes from all over the country and just by choosing the ones that really spoke to you, you got people from all over the country because everyone was affected," she said. "There were a lot of themes that went through peoples' reactions, so I tried to choose a few from each kind of reaction people had, and it wasn't one-sided."

This is the first strictly auditory exhibit that CDS has ever produced.

"There is not really a beginning, middle or end to it and you experience it as a group. You share the experience with other people," Perl explained the exhibition, which is setup in a continuous loop on a 37-minute CD.

"It's a different kind of exhibition. I'd like for people to use a different sense--hearing--and think of that as art, but also to see the documentary side of it... and reflect on that."

Perl said she hopes people will leave the sound gallery thinking and talking about its contributors' various messages. "It will be interesting to see how people respond to just straight audio."

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