Climb a small set of metal stairs, and a chorus of odd vocal sounds is heard with each step. Approach a lectern and the action triggers another voice, seemingly otherworldly. Sit in a worn swivel chair and the word "is" booms from a speaker, the pitch and rhythm changing with each repetition.
In San Diego-based artist Nina Waisman's installation, "Quinine," at Koo's Art Center in Long Beach, everyday objects lurk in mounds of ankle-deep shredded newspaper, awaiting a visitor's approach. Enter the installation and your presence draws reverberant sounds made up of seemingly random words.
Waisman is among more than 60 emerging and established artists who are part of "SoundWalk 2005," an exhibition of sound-art installations at galleries, bookstores, apartment buildings and other sites in the East Village arts district of Long Beach.
Presented by FLOOD, an area artists' group dedicated to collaborative, multi-genre artistic experimentation, this second-annual sound-and-visual arts event will run from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday in the area encompassed by Broadway, Atlantic and Ocean boulevards, and Elm Avenue. Some installations at Koo's, the Open bookstore, Utopia restaurant and Seams clothing store will remain on display through Sept. 7. Maps to installation sites will be distributed at Koo's and other nearby locations;
"SoundWalk" showcases sound art in a way that is readily accessible to the public, says artist and art historian Frauke von der Horst, a teacher at Otis College of Art and Design and member of FLOOD.
"You have visual pieces with a sound component, and you have the visual aspect of the site in which the art is integrated. So while strolling through the neighborhood, you're doing so with all your sensory perceptions: You smell the neighborhood, you hear it, you see it."
There's a surprise factor, she said, in "something that you're familiar with being tweaked into something fun and exciting."
Von der Horst and fellow FLOOD members Kamran Assadi, Shea M. Gauer and Scott A. Peterson curated the exhibition, which features artists from the area as well as from New Zealand, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. Proposals for the exhibition were solicited through open invitation.
At Koo's, Orson Welles' voice emanates from a small, weather-beaten wooden shack -- Patricio Wolovich's re-creation of the empty house that offers sanctuary to a character in Welles' 1938 broadcast of "The War of the Worlds." Wolovich describes it as a tribute to Welles and to early sound entertainment.
In the gallery's darkened back room, Eric Kabisch's projections of California landscapes flow around a circle of stretched nylon, its lights and music activated by the movement of visitors within the circle. Kabisch's sonic journey, he says, based on users' navigation and interaction with the piece, looks at "the relationship between a viewer of art and someone who becomes actively engaged in the experience, and acquires authorship of it."
Robert Adam Malin, a native New Zealander and ex-U.S. Navy combat illustrator, uses toys and the blended sounds of warfare and Disneyland's ubiquitous "It's a Small World" anthem in a diorama called "Small World," to make a point about terrorism and "the nature of evil," he says.
"Being from New Zealand," he adds, "I feel it gives me a certain freedom to explore what it means to be in America during wartime."
Nearby, at the Open bookstore, a wooden block installation by Gauer and J. Frede will connect forest sounds with the turning of a book's pages.
In the store's front window, pots of blooming cacti are hooked up to speakers, allowing the plants to "listen" to recordings by 50 Cent, Mozart and others. Over a two-month period, the artist, xtine, will chart the plants' growth.
A collaborative work by Von der Horst and Assadi requires visitors to enter a vacant apartment where they will hear recorded "ordinary household sounds" echo in the emptiness.
Steve Roden, who has shown his sound and visual works internationally, will improvise a soundscape over a five-hour period in the "mysterious and convoluted" old ballroom of the former La Fayette Hotel (now a condominium complex), reached via an entryway at the back of the Open bookstore.
"You won't see me," he says. "It will be like 'The Wizard of Oz' -- I'll be in a sort of nook not visible to people.
Through the positioning of speakers and seating, Roden intends to create an intimate "space that's disconnected from the space we exist in -- a way of stepping outside of where we are. It's quiet and small to allow people to notice it, as opposed to bonking them over the head."
Waisman's movement-activated piece, with its "pre-lingual, primordial" intent, explores communication between humans and machines.
"I'm thinking of this as outside a language situation," she says, "where things are more tactile and you don't know what's going to happen.
"Yeah, it's a little scary," she adds, "but it's also playful."
Each visitor's perceptions of the installations will differ because sound art, Roden says, is "so much about an interaction. I have my own ideas, but I'm so much more interested in having people come into the space and place their own meaning on it."
With sound art, "the rules aren't set. There's still room for surprise."
Where: East Village arts district of downtown Long Beach, encompassed by Broadway, Atlantic and Ocean boulevards, and Elm Avenue.
When: 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday; opening reception, 5 to 6 p.m. at Koo's Art Center, 540 E. Broadway; closing reception, 10 p.m., Basement Lounge, 149 Linden Ave. (B-100).
Contact: (562) 499-OPEN, www.soundwalk.org