The art of listening is much like staring at a painting or getting to know someone. The more you do it, the more you understand, said local sound artist Vaughn Garland.
Garland started collecting audio along state Route 5 between Richmond and Williamsburg this summer to create an archive of natural sounds and interviews to better understand life along the historic road.
He hopes residents and frequenters of the road will submit their own sound bites and compile the online equivalent of a public art project. There are also plans to create an app for travelers that would play the corresponding sound when they near its origin.
“To me, it’s about slowing down and paying attention,” said Garland, who has an arts doctorate from Virginia Commonwealth University and was a drawing and painting adjunct instructor there. “The more time you spend listening in a place, more is revealed about it.”
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The project shows how sounds play a large role in defining place.
Garland travels up and down Route 5 three times a week, sometimes making appointments at various landmarks and sometimes going without a plan.
He’s run into young boys fishing in Richmond, eagles chasing each other across the sky above the Chickahominy River and he’s even recorded underwater.
Susan Reed and Robert Walz live up the road from Shirley Plantation in Charles City County. Reed lived in Richmond for 10 years before moving to a rented cottage on a private farm in the lightly populated county with her husband in 2009.
Garland visited Tuesday to gather sounds of the construction of a barn, insects and birds in a meadow, a creek, a sheep and a pig named Tomato.
The sounds — or lack thereof — surrounding their home are what drew Reed in.
“If you hear a motor, it’s a boat on the river,” said Reed, who works in Shockoe Slip and chairs the Richmond public art commission.
Sound was also the main driver in choosing a metal roof for their add-on back porch.
“My dad told me as a kid, he would run out to the barn on purpose to hear the rain,” Reed said. They duplicated the experience and regularly scurry out to the porch during a storm to hear the patter of rain from above.
Garland said part of the inspiration for the project came from his father, a historian. Summers in his childhood were filled with educational trips to historic landmarks in Virginia instead of the beach or amusement parks.
He resented it for years until he realized the significance of history in the state and particularly Richmond, Williamsburg and the mostly rural road that connects them.
Garland said he observed how the farming community changed and eventually diminished in his hometown of Emory in Southwest Virginia and compared it to potential development along Route 5.
“The identity of the community died because of the farmers being pushed out” in Emory, he said. “When the cameras start rolling on these bikers in 2015 ... I want them to understand — and even Richmond(ers) — this vibrant community from fishers and farmers to lawyers and doctors.”
Richmond will host the UCI Road World Championships cycling event in September 2015.
Walz said the construction of the Virginia Capital Trail between Richmond and Williamsburg, the historic James River plantations along Route 5 and the battles fought in the area serve as reminders of the road’s legacy.
“It was always the center of activity here,” he said. “And it’s still relatively undeveloped.”
Garland said the project has already brought him out of his comfort zone to meet dozens of strangers who together help form the character of 50 miles of road.
He has found himself in several places where he sulked as a young boy longing to be at the beach. This time, he understands.
Lkebede@timesdispatch.com (804) 649-6243 Twitter: @kebedefaith
“To me, it’s about slowing down
and paying attention. The more time you spend listening
in a place, more is revealed about it.”
Vaughn Garland, local sound artist