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LA State Historic Park introduces new immersive experience with 32 Acres app

(Jocelyn Wang/Daily Bruin)

By Isabella Durgin

Aug. 16, 2021 1:17 p.m.

Los Angeles State Historic Park’s story is expanding beyond its 32 acres.

Presented by the Center Theatre Group in association with the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, 32 Acres is an immersive sound experience at the LA State Historic Park running until Sept. 29. The sitespecific soundwalk functions via an app, guiding users through the namesake 32 acres with narration, sound and music about the historic park and Los Angeles as a whole. Creator and associate theater professor Marike Splint said the project aims to be a contemplative experience for viewers around the evolving history of the City of Angels.

“LA is always playing a game with history. … It’s always in the process of reinventing itself and thinking about what it can become next,” Splint said. “And so for me, it is more (about) becoming aware of the attitude the city has towards history than an actual history lesson.”

While the project and the park are about LA history, Splint said 32 Acres also delves into the present and future of LA. The park opened temporarily in 2001 and recently reopened in 2017, but Splint said there is a deeper history beneath the park’s growing trees and young appearance. Splint said the city’s first transcontinental railroad depot was kept buried underneath the grounds to preserve and recognize the area’s history as Tongva land and a flood plain – giving 32 Acres layers to work with.

[Related: ‘For the Love of L.A.’ exhibit showcases local artists, reflects on social issues]

The piece is also timely to COVID-19 pandemic life because of its independent format, said Stewart Blackwood, an app developer and technical sound designer. While typical exhibits might have permanent displays, Blackwood said the individualized app format transforms the park into a piece of art and history on a user’s own path. To do so, Blackwood said he created story points based on restricted latitude and longitude values to allow the app to personalize experiences, in which time spent at a location correlates to how much music and narration a user hears.

Technical tools like story points allowed the creative team to tweak the sound experience themselves, Blackwood said. Jonathan Snipes, a continuing lecturer in the theater department and the sound designer, composer and sound implementer, said he often frequented the park to familiarize himself with routes and record what the areas sound like. He said he then blended nature sounds and recurring noises, such as the church bells or passing trains, along with background clamor typically eliminated from specialized sound pieces.

“The interesting thing to me about a field recording practice and a recording audio practice is that you learn to turn your frustrations into assets or into themes, and you learn to lean into them because there’s not anything you can do about the annoyance,” Snipes said.

These recordings of the LA State Historic Park took time to become a unified thematic piece, Snipes said. He said he interwove the initial sound design and composition with themes that originated from later inspirations, such as how the decision to rewind back to the train station’s turntable led to the concept of scrubbing away time and memory both sonically and thematically. Elements such as the rewinding were joined by acoustic instruments like the kalimba and piano, and Snipes said most of what sounds like synthesizers are actually pitched versions of park recordings that were filtered and processed.

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While the soundtrack guides visitors through the park by prompting them to perceive their surroundings on a deeper level, it also includes the voices of Angelenos. Splint said 32 Acres crowdsourced approximately 1,500 recordings on concepts such as what LA tastes or sounds like, which Snipes said he then layered to create a cobblestone tapestry.

For Splint, elements such as the voices of Angelenos contribute to the characterization of the greater LA area through a dynamic, mutual relationship between the city and residents. To create a newfound attentiveness, Snipes said he musicalizes sounds taken for granted to elicit an emotional response that will be different for each listener. Heard at the same time, Splint’s poetic essay gives structured information about the city and park, but she said she enjoys how people will encounter experiences that are not controlled by the app, such as nearby people and their dogs or kites flying overhead.

“I think (32 Acres) invites the audience to think about their own relationship to Los Angeles, and how they move through the city, how they inhabit the city, how they see the city and also how the city has affected their lives,” Splint said.

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Isabella Durgin | Music | fine arts editor
Durgin is currently the music | fine arts editor. She previously served as an Arts contributor from 2020-2021. She is a second-year English student from Meridian, Mississippi.
Durgin is currently the music | fine arts editor. She previously served as an Arts contributor from 2020-2021. She is a second-year English student from Meridian, Mississippi.
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