Laiwan: Call Numbers – The Library Recordings

image of headphones
Audio Sample

Vancouver Public Library

January 2007 – March 2008

Call Numbers: The Library RecordingsCall Numbers: The Library Recordings allowed viewers to turn their catalogue searches into musical compositions. Using the Vancouver Public Library’s on-line catalogue at, viewers performed an author or keyword search. Entering the call numbers according to the guidelines on the Call Numbers: The Library Recordings website translated the data into a musical composition and created an audio file. Pasting call numbers from the list into the Call Numbers: The Library Recordings music engine became compositional choices. Viewers could enjoy their search results musically, along with other users, as a downloadable file – a collection of musical works composed by library users.

Laiwan is interested in improvisation, translation, and the effects of technological culture. “Call Numbers: The Library Recordings” explores what the Library collection ‘sounds’ like, as it is translated from words to letters and numbers, to musical notes, tempo and style. Her project summons up the image of a fluid mass of data, routed and re-routed through a sequence of organizing systems – our languages, the physical books themselves, the catalogue index, the digits of the call numbers, music notation and sounds. Along the way, each system bears a set of meanings that we de-code and re-code to make new meanings in new forms.

The on-line catalogue is one of many ways we enter the space of the Library, and this portal to its collection reflects our changing concept of access to information in a technological society. As in her previous work, Laiwan suggests the curious contradictions of our embrace with the digital world. “Call Numbers: The Library Recordings” creates a space for collaborating with other users in building a collection of music, a forum for connection, improvisation and exchange. At the same time, it highlights the distance between the players: the shared aural space of a musical performance is delayed through time and space. As “Call Numbers: The Library Recordings” grows in unpredictable ways, this call and response between the artist and the audience echoes the seemingly endless volume of information and our drive to contain it.

Presented by:

Group Search was made possible through the invaluable contributions of The Canada Council for the Arts, the BC Arts Council, the Spirit of BC Arts Fund, the Vancouver Foundation, Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design and Generation Printing.

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