Artists Space

Listening to the LES

Listening to the LES is a new media art project at P.S. 140 with special education students in Grades 5 and 6. It is lead by Robert Sember, member of sound art collective Ultra-Red. The project introduces students to inquiry-based art practices, and builds a shared historical awareness of the fabric of the city and the lives of those who live here. Students use oral history, site recording, and archival materials to explore their Lower East Side neighborhood. Students conduct interviews, make and edit audio recordings, and plan and facilitate listening sessions and contribute their compositions to the annual Young Artists Perform (YAP) presentation.

This year, we are listening to the deep history of the Lower East Side—sounds that no longer exist, sounds that are buried under the noise, bustle, and ambition of the present time. We call this project A Map of Echoes because echoes, like memories, come back and last beyond the events that cause them. We are visiting places of historical importance to each community to “return” or honor their presence with music by their descendants. We make recordings of this music played back into these places so that we hear the sounds of the past mixing with the sounds of the present. In the process, we are thinking about the echoes of our now on the Lower East Side.

  – Robert Semper, Teaching Artist

Two poems. On the left, by Quentin: "I am from a computer and websites and games. / I am from a fun house and a loud house. / I am from an acacia tree and a bush whose stems I remember as if they were my own. / I am from Fourth of July and birthdays and from being sick toether and my sister Sivanda. / I am from my niece and being observant and independent. / I am from "stay out of the trouble" and "wait until you
P.S. 140 student poems from “I am” project, 2018 [Two poems. On the left, by Quentin: "I am from a computer and websites and games. / I am from a fun house and a loud house. / I am from an acacia tree and a bush whose stems I remember as if they were my own. / I am from Fourth of July and birthdays and from being sick toether and my sister Sivanda. / I am from my niece and being observant and independent. / I am from "stay out of the trouble" and "wait until you're older" and *Wheels on the Bus.* / I am from always eating at 7 o'clock. / I am from Manhattan and Puerto Rico and Africa and chicken and rice and seafood. / I am from fighting all the time and shiny and precious jewlery." The second poem, by Gabby, reads: "I am from Hip Hop music and cocoa butter and sprite. / I am from Joy and love. / I am from a cherry tree and daisies whose stems I remember as if they were my own. / I am from church and birthday parties and from bravery and confidence. / I am from Sabrina and cleaning the house and from family that is protective of me. / I am from 'mind your business' and 'I don't have friends, I have associates' and 'stay alive longer!' and the song *Body Party* by Ciara. / I am from visiting with family in Pennsylvania. / I am from East Harlem and West Indians and fried chicken and mac 'n cheese. / I am from Shakina who passed and I am named after her and a beautiful Egyptian statue"]
A cropped image of a group of students smiling for the camera in Tompkins Square Park. One holds a recording device, which has been overlaid with an opaque orange image of a lampshade. Green digital circles emanate out from it, as if to simulate a doppler-effected sound
P.S. 140 students recording sounds at Tompkins Square Park, 2019 [A cropped image of a group of students smiling for the camera in Tompkins Square Park. One holds a recording device, which has been overlaid with an opaque orange image of a lampshade. Green digital circles emanate out from it, as if to simulate a doppler-effected sound]
An image of several students paitning with watercolors, each on their own desk
P.S. 140 students painting sound, 2019 [An image of several students paitning with watercolors, each on their own desk]

For African Burial Ground, P.S. 140 students participating in A Map of Echos speak and engage in sound restoration on-site, 2018.

Play African Burial Ground recording


Frankie, one of the P.S. 140 students participating in Listening to the LES, explains the difference between equality, equity, and liberation.

Play recording of Frankie on Equality, Equity, and Liberation

To listen to Frankie speak more about equity, visit this link:
Examining Equity with Robert Sember and Listening to the LES, Children’s Museum of the the Arts CIVICKIDS blog, 2018.