Photo Gallery | Album recorded in Sears Tower captures 'inspirational quality of empty spaces'
Over the past couple of years a tuba, saxophone, hand-made harp and handful of other instruments have echoed in the Crosstown Sears Tower's abandoned spaces.
Artist and musician Sean Murphy began recording an album in the vacant building in 2011 to capture the sounds in its current state. When Murphy began the project, he chose the Midtown icon instead of other abandoned buildings partially because of its accessibility. Along with Crosstown Arts, who helped fund the project, Murphy also wanted to bring awareness to the dilapidated building.
"I grew up in Memphis and was fascinated with this ghost town of a building that's a million and a half square feet, and [I had] the opportunity to go inside," said Murphy. "Music is a great medium in a building like that, to be able to express itself like it's been before."
The building has seven seconds of echo, which compromises the instruments' sounds. All four musicians involved in recording— including Jim Spake, Jason Northcutt, and Mary Jane Adams— had to consider the serious delay when playing.
"I have to take a step back and think about how I can use music and talk with this building. It has it's own set of sounds," said Murphy.
The album took roughly 18 months to record. A total of 25 to 30 hours of music was recorded in the building over the period of 10 sessions. After editing, the album, Sketches of Crosstown, will be 44 minutes long.
In October, Murphy will have a live performance of the album in the Sears Tower for a record release party. Crosstown Arts co-director Chris Miner says it is a rare opportunity to be a part of a musical performance inspired by a massive physical space.
"Hearing the performance live, in the building, gives the audience a chance to experience the inspirational quality of the vast, empty space before its renovated," said Miner.
A group looking to redevelop the vacant tower made a request for millions of dollars from the City of Memphis to help with the Crosstown Development Project in March. Several organizations, including the Church Health Center, ALSAC St. Jude, and Methodist hospital, have committed to moving into the space and raising the capital to refurbish the building. Construction could start as early as next year.
The developing partners want to move into the Sears Building by 2016. Miner and Murphy say this makes the upcoming performance a once in a lifetime opportunity.
"No one is going to get to go into the building and see how it is now .... And see something, hear something, smell something, feel something, have that full body experience. Experience it one last time," said Murphy.
Murphy will eventually release the instrumental album digitally, which will be a longterm musical document of what was inside the empty building. But like most Midtowners, Murphy is excited to see what will become of the Sears Tower in the near future.
"Memphis is saving a building for once," he said.
To read more about the upcoming performance October 20 and purchase a ticket, click here. (Tickets include a copy of the limited edition 180 gram vinyl record; space is very limited.) Watch a promotional video below; if you are on a mobile device, click here.