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Halsey Burgund wants your voice

The plywood booth is simple and sturdily constructed. It looks like an outhouse, or an ice-fishing shanty. Except for the words stenciled, stark and alluring, on the door: ENTER. SPEAK.

Halsey Burgund wants to talk to you. Or to listen, really. On Saturday at the Museum of Science, the 32-year-old Bedford musician wants you to come inside his tall, dimly lit box and read a poem. Or maybe just chat with him about the weather, or your weekend plans. His project is called Bring Your Own Voice, and he wants you to do just that. Itís not hard. After all, Burgund says, "you canít go anywhere without your voice."

On Saturday afternoon, Burgund ó who last appeared in these pages (see "Talk Talk," This Just In, July 29, 2005) speaking out for file-sharing ó hopes to talk to 20 or 30 people, committing their unique cadences, inflections, and timbres to tape. He plans to take these inimitable voices back to his studio, listen to them closely, pick and choose words and phrases, arrange them and rearrange them, loop them, echo them, and set them to music. "I treat the voices themselves as instruments," he says. "I might have 16 tracks of what one would traditionally call an instrument, and then 16 tracks of people speaking. The little clips I distilled earlier, I stick them in and move them around."

Since starting the BYOV project in late 2004, Burgund has "collected" more than 100 voices on hours of tape. The songs heís created with them ó many released on his debut record, Words and Voices (Aesthetic Evidence) ó are both textual and textural, using evocative phrases and the sounds of voices themselves in songs that range from ambient washes to pulsing techno reveries to tricky, rhythmic indie rock.

Burgund intermingles strangersí personal reflections ó "storms make me lonely," "my partner and I understand each other completely," "I do not have much to be proud of in my life" ó into foreboding piano chords and vertiginous whorls of strings. He sculpts sound using chortles and chuckles, monastic chants, loops of two very different voices repeating the same line: "sneaking along a circuitous path." Sometimes the imagery is entrancingly oneiric ("time slowed down yesterday morning as I lay in bed, chitchatting with my dreams"). Sometimes itís humorously matter-of-fact (a man talks at length about trying to kill a spider "the size of a freakiní cat").

The sum total is a shifting aural tapestry, one thatís as powerful for its affecting authenticity as it is reflective of the human experience. Thatís why Burgundís only advice for potential speakers is as simple as it is clichéd: be yourself.

"Iím really not looking for people to go in there and ham it up and be somebody theyíre not," he says. "Iíve found that people who try to act, people who are very aware of the fact that theyíre being recorded, it comes off as a little bit forced. The best nuggets Iíve collected are people behaving completely naturally."

To that end, Burgund has tried to make the big BYOV booth as inviting a space as possible. "You know you have the microphone there, but at the same time youíre in a very private situation. I try to create the booth such that people would feel comfortable to open up a little bit, to answer questions as honestly as possible," he says. (To minimize claustrophobia, he made sure to design it with plenty of headroom, and to light it with a warm and inviting yellow bulb.)

"People are so fascinating, and their voices are so fascinating a reflection of who they are," Burgund says. In that way, he sees this project almost less in musical terms than in journalistic ones. The difference, of course, being that "Iím not investigating facts at all, but peopleís feelings and peopleís thoughts and peopleís emotional responses. I like to hear what other people have to say."

Halsey Burgund sets up the Bring Your Own Voice booth in the Blue Wing of the Museum of Science this Saturday, January 7, from 1 to 5 pm. To learn more, visit www.bringyourownvoice.com and www.aevidence.com.

Issue Date: January 6 - 12, 2006
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