NEW LONDON – Walking through an art museum – whether it’s to view classic paintings and sculptures of the masters or a display by local artists – can be a quiet experience in the hushed, winding halls of a gallery.

The New London Little Theatre is offering the opposite experience where the objects in the museum are a collection of sounds.

The “Museum of Portable Sound” is a one-on-one, real-time experience between a museum guest sitting in the New London Little Theatre in New London and museum curator John Kannenberg who is sitting at his home in England.

The interaction happens with headphones, video chat and a walk through Kannenberg’s museum of sounds.

The nearly hour-long personal museum tour, which costs $15, is part of the New London Theatre’s “Art by Appointment” series that was created this summer after COVID-19 precautions restricted indoor theater crowds.

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Appointments are available from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Developed as a way to bring art to the community and to help generate revenue, Little Theatre Director Bethany Lacktorin said the Museum of Portable Sound – along with new shows that will be added this fall – will be ongoing until the theater can resume performances at full capacity.

Hours of sounds

For the last 20 years Kannenberg has field-recorded more than 1,000 hours of unique sounds from his travels around the world. His museum is a collection of 317 individual pieces of sound that total 8½ hours.

“I put this museum together to try to prove that there are other ways of thinking about sound other than just source material for music or like sound effects in movies and video games,” he said. “So I try to look at sound through a cultural angle.”

The eclectic collection gives listeners an opportunity to hear sounds like crickets recorded in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a public telephone in Venice, a white beaked dolphin recorded in the North Sea, a police car siren in Chicago.

One of the handful of sounds in the collection that Kannenberg didn’t personally record but was provided by a friend, is the sound of protesters in Egypt during the Arab Spring at the exact moment that Hosni Mubarak stepped down from power.

There are sounds of rain falling in forests, sounds of people walking and talking in various cities and the industrial sounds of jackhammers, generators and escalators.

There’s also the sound of Kannenberg falling off a camel near the Great Pyramid in Egypt and one of the most popular in the museum, the sound of Sigmund Freud’s toilet flushing in Vienna, Austria.

Kannenberg said he collects, conserves and exhibits sounds the same way museums exhibit physical items.

And just like a visual arts museum, Kannenberg has arranged his museum into categories with sections on natural history, art and culture, science and technology, architecture and urban design.

Within those categories there are 30 individual galleries that “group sounds together” in themes, said Kannenberg.

A new way to listen

Kannenberg, who started the project while obtaining a doctorate in England, said the museum has serious and fun sides.

“I do a lot of goofy things but I do a lot of serious things as well,” he said.

The collection gets people to “stop and laugh” and then “stop and pay attention to sounds” in the same way other museums do with regular objects.

Kannenberg provides the personal, guided tour through the museum of sounds, which is augmented by a glossy, 300-page museum guide that provides the back-story for each sound in the collection. That story might include information about the time and location of the recording, the history of the item being recorded and information that provides context to the sound.

The experience can have a “big effect on people who’ve never thought about it before,” he said.

“It can be an eye-opener, but it’s not,” he said with a grin. “It would be an ear-opener, but that sounds cheesy.”

The one-on-one guided tours not only helps people who “might find the whole thing weird or confusing” but it also “forces people to make an appointment with themselves to listen, which is something we rarely ever do anymore,” he said.

Lacktorin, who worked with Kannenberg at the Children’s Museum in St. Paul in the past, has enhanced the listening experience by staging a physical museum at the Little Theatre that includes a collection of sound recording devices.

With accent lighting, red carpet and gray pedestals to display the items, Lacktorin has created a physical museum that leads to the computer and headsets for guests to visit Kannenberg’s museum of sound.

That display is currently located along one side of the Little Theatre, which is undergoing a construction project.

For more information, or to make an appointment, go to the Little Theatre’s website or call 320-557-5584.

If you go:

Guided tours of the Museum of Portable Sound are available from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

To make an appointment go to the Little Theatre’s website or call 320-557-5584.

The cost is $15.

The experience lasts about 45 minutes.

New 'Art by Appointment' shows coming

  • “A Gift from New London” art experience opens Sept. 25-27. The one-on-one experience links a theater guest in New London with an individual from the Czeck Republic. Using symbols and objects that both people on both sides of the world have in front of them, the experience stretches the imagination to communicate without using sound.

  • The “Mill Pond Sound Walk” show opens in December. Featuring audio recordings from around New London; the event includes a performance by two individuals that will be performed for 1-2 people at a time.