I went to the High Museum for “College Night” with my girlfriend on Saturday, February 22, 2015. We arrived around 9:30 pm. It was raining lightly. Before going inside we smoked a cigarette under a glass awning, on which the rain pattered quietly. There was an immediate energy when we entered the building. Groups of students were scattered throughout the lobby talking loudly amongst themselves. An employee of the museum directed us to the correct line to pick up our tickets. After getting our tickets, we walked through a short hallway into the Robinson Atrium.
The atrium was almost uncomfortably crowded. There was a concession stand along the back wall. A man in a tuxedo was selling hotdogs. A mass of students formed a semicircle around a group of predominately Indian kids who were beat boxing over the PA system. Occasionally somebody from their crew would start breakdancing. At four or five floors high, the atrium is an incredibly resonate space. The beat boxing and murmur of conversations echoed throughout building.
We wandered aimlessly, drinking wine out of a thermos and avoiding crowds when possible. The beat boxing continued until about 10:00 pm, at which point music was played over the speakers. I remember specifically, while we were walking to the top floor of the museum, hearing Outkast’s “SpottieOttieDopaliscious.” Hearing familiar music was both exciting and comforting. The volume of the music varied depending on our distance from the atrium. The sound of people talking was consistent, although there were certainly parts of the High where less people were congregating. The English ceramics section was particularly empty.
We walked through the main wing of the museum fairly quickly. When we got to the Wieland Pavilion, Skyway Level galleries, there was a distinct mood change. Significantly fewer people had wandered this far into the High. Here, it was much quieter. The vaulted ceilings and wide-open space made the sound much softer. I felt significantly more relaxed in this space than I had in the atrium. We sat for a moment to enjoy the silence and to admire some impressively large paintings.
We left the Wieland Pavilion in search of the sculpture garden, hoping to find a place to have a cigarette. Unfortunately it was closed, so we chose to leave. On the way out, we saw the group of beat boxers dancing in the lobby.
I made a two-part recording of my experience. The first part captures the moment when we were walking to the top floor of the museum. The space is filled with the sound of people talking. Their voices echo loudly. Mostly the voices sound far off, but at 0:13, someone can be heard speaking directly in front of me. “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” is playing in the background throughout this part of the recording. The music was not as crisp as I had hoped it would be. The speakers sound muffled and the music is almost swallowed by the sound of people talking. The jingle of my keys is audible as I walk.
The second part of the recording captures Wieland Pavilion. When it begins, Torrie is opening her backpack, probably to take out the thermos. The fabric of the backpack is heard brushing against her coat. The zipper of the backpack is also heard. There is a loud noise at 0:41 that sounds like a whistle, but I think it was made by somebody scuffing their shoe on the ground. There is a constant murmur of far off voices, much quieter and gentler than in the first part of the recording. You can hear occasional footsteps as people walk by. At 1:03 there is a shout. At 1:08, two people walk by. The volume of their voices rises and falls as they pass. Compared to the first part of the recording, I feel like the openness of the space is more obvious here.
In general I enjoyed the event. I’ve never been to the High before, so it was a completely unfamiliar experience. Because it was “College Night,” it was much louder than I would have liked. In a way it reminded me of being at a high school pep rally, both physically (with the number of people in attendance) and sonically. The event itself was kind of stressful, but I appreciated the space that it was in. I think I was far too sober to deal with all of the crowds. I did, however, buy a membership so I can go back without having to share the experience with hundreds of other people at once.