Critical Making Montreal

As part of the “Site and Sound” festival in Montreal we participated in a Critical Making workshop with Garnet Hertz, the author or the zine “Critical Making” that is proving to be a strong and unique voice in the art + technology scholarship. It was great to work with Garnet and the other workshop participants. At the end of the day we had a new issue of the zine “Critical Making Montreal.” Studio Ju Ju contributed an essay about the Firehouse Bell Project.


The firehouse bell tower in Burlington, Vermont – an iconic part of the local cityscape. The bell tower was restored in 2002 and its bell, after over 50 years in storage at Shelburne Museum, was ceremoniously hoisted back into the tower. However, the bell still does not ring.


The Firehouse Bell Project

When and Where:

User Required
April 12, 2013 – May 18, 2013
Burlington City Arts Gallery, Burlington, Vermont


Bells were once necessary to summon the public all at once, all together, all in one place. Their sounds are deeply woven into the cultural fabric and unique soundscapes of cities and towns worldwide. Civic bells are constant; they mark time through personal stories and shared histories that unite a public’s past and present. Despite extraordinary and rapid advances in communication technology, do we perhaps still have a basic desire to hear bells ring into the future?


The Installation Experience

Voting for the future of the Firehouse Bell in Burlington, Vermont

The Firehouse Bell Project was on view at Burlington City Arts as part of the exhibition User Required in April and May of 2013. The installation posed two questions: Do you think The Firehouse Bell should ring again and if so why should it ring? The installation included video from the foundry where the bell was made, the bell’s original striker that we found in the bell tower.

Scroll down to the bottom of this page to view a video of the installation.


Once an essential communication technology for the City of Burlington, is the firehouse bell just a decoration or does an inspired contemporary purpose await its ring?

Do you think The Firehouse Bell should ring again?
Yes Votes = 464
No Votes = 68

The following suggestions were submitted in response to the question: Do you think The Firehouse Bell should ring again and if so why should it ring?

When there is an opening, ring the bell.

It will inspire people to write poems!!

It should ring every time a new baby is born in Burlington.

Ring the bell on the morning of a voting day as a reminder to vote!

Ring the bell when there is an event at City Hall Park (lets local citizen know if they hadn’t heard/read about it yet)

Ring the bell for celebratory reasons and associate it with announcement on City Hall website. Call it “Why the bell Rings” or something like that.

Bring back the fire pole.

Have the bell travel around announcing a sort of art-mobile. Could start with First Friday Art Shuttle then could take mobile exhibits/displays to schools or randomly around towns, county, state. One farmers market, summervale, waterfront – partner w/Shelburne Museum, Fleming, etc. Bring art to those who wouldn’t otherwise travel to it. Alternate fuel of course,. Bike/Solar etc.

Voting buttons for The Firehouse Bell Project

To celebrate community!

Have it ring at high and low tide.

Have water mist around the bell and ring it when the sun is in position to make a rainbow. 

Ring the firehouse bell! Brings back a sense of history and reminds us how we could still exist without technology.

I think the bell should be able to ring because the bell would ring for special occasions like Christmas, Valentines Day, etc.

I think the bell should ring again because it could be used for events.

The bell RINGING AND BECKONING a community to come together CELEBRATES our accomplishments, ties US TO OUR PAST, resonates for FUTURE GENERATIONS

It rings every time someone falls in love.

The bell should ring every time someone gives any amount of money to a homeless individual in Burlington and texts/tweets the message to a server at the BCA.

What else is a bell good for? Paperweight.

A historic bell has one primary auditory purpose. It must ring! The real issue is when/what purpose?

Aka it may be like a doom bell.

Apocalypse or when warning when all else fails.

The bell must ring for a good reason.

I love the bell.

It should ring according to the moon cycle

It should ring if there is an emergency.

It should ring on holidays and special events.

KEEP IT. Just because it no longer serves the technological, communication purpose it once had is no reason to render it silent. W’er humans aren’t we? WE ASSIGN MEANING TO EVERYTHING. (even the meaningless). We can figure out a new meaning and reason for the bell’s dulcet, brassy tones.

Ring it. It makes us happy. And if it annoys anyone, it doesn’t last for very long. They’ll get over it.

The bell should ring every day at 11:11am and 3:33pm as a reminder for people to smile, enjoy life and strive for excellence. We all need a reminder.

Our communal/community history through common objects is part of who we are as a community today – let’s remember from whence we came by keeping the bell. 

The bell could be used to announce civic events, such as voting day, and rung throughout the day to capture (demand) attention and action.

Function and decoration. Best of both worlds, dingaling, abing bong.

Just ring that damn bell!

The bell should be rung every time a new Burlington baby is born!

It should ring when a bill is passed in Vermont to keep the public engaged and informed regarding new legislation.

Find a way to make music with different beats, different types – for other to accompany.

Every time a baby is born! It would bring a sense of being alive. It should be rung every weekend and when people are celebrating the city!

The firehouse bell is a great reminder of how technology has changed over time. The bell is cumbersome weight has been replaced by lighter more concise technology. 

At the equinox and solstice and other astral events. 

The bell could be used to celebrate and announce community events, such as the Farmer’s Market, First Fridays, Art Hop, Festival of Fools, The Giant Pumpkin Regatta, voting days, First Night, Fourth of July , the last day of school and other special occasions. 

This bell is destined to be used in a contemporary statue that rings at meaningful times. The statue should represent Burlington in all its glory. Or be a pterodactyl. Actually, just make it a pterodactyl. 

It would be really cool to see temporary artwork created with the bell that would be audience-controlled. 

Art can be anything. You just have to find a place to put it. Thank you.

Town Meeting Day

It could symbolize thanks and gratitude when something special happened: New baby born, War ended (maybe more than one ring!), Countless other things!

The bell should be kept to help preserve the building’s exterior historicity.  It should be operable for auspicious occasions, but otherwise preserved as is.

Every time the bell rang it would symbolize God telling us someone did the right thing and it would be God’s form of giving thanks.

Yes! Upcycle! New use for historic artifacts!

Ring the bell exactly one week after a Burlington resident has a baby. Maybe Morse Code the name.

Bells are part of our life. They make us aware of how time moves by. Sacred, honorable, event, move on, take notice, Keep us in step.

Every time a child is born.

Use also some light (lights and sound). 

Utiliser de l’électronique!

I imagine the bell being used for different purposes than the City Hall Bell – such as to announce the opening of a new show!

The &#$! Are you talking about? Just live your life man.

Every time a new business comes to Burlington Vermont!

As evidence of our past communications, stories and history it should have a place.

When there is a big event.

If the bell coincided with the bus schedule…maybe the 1 (that’s the line I most frequently ride), it would be rally helpful for me!

It’s magical.

I love you.

I bet it used to ring and it just takes up power and doesn’t do it anymore. 

Ring every time someone is born (or dies?)

How about allowing views form the top. Ringing on special occasions and/or each Noon.

Soundez justice! Maitenant! S’il vous plaisez!

To ring off city wide “fun days” – beautiful weather days when city employees and (anyone else too!) get the day off. 

It should ring again so that people do not forget what a real bell sounds like. Everyone is now so programmed by all sorts of personalized ringtones on their cell phones that the sound of a real actual bell actually now sounds unusual. 

Making a German coo-coo clock-esque animatronic flying monkey that hammers the bell.

Everytime the mayor tweets, the bell shall ring!

Yes! It’s history and should ring again. Technology doesn’t need to replace everything “old fashioned”!

On the first day of school.

Used for weddings.

It should be replaced with a bubble machine.

Announce begin and end of Art Hop.

Ring at 5:00pm every Friday marking the start of the weekend – “The start of the end”

Ring based on light/dark rather than the exact time of day.

Use public news sources and measure frequency of words like “celebrate” to determine when to ring, only ringing when “celebrate” reaches an extraordinary frequency.

It should warn if zombies attack, have regular Zombie drills (Once a month @ random)

Burlington needs its “symphonies carillon” such as Montreal has its “symphonies portvaires” every year…I’ll come every year for that!

Maybe to commemorate moments in Burlington Vermont history or to open events…the bell could ring!

When it rings 1000 times the aliens will invade the Earth.

Ring at local (high) noon each day – a time different than 12:00 (and I believe a bit different each day).

Please don’t record the sound of the bell and then play the recording rather than ring the bell.

Ring the bell every time an animal is adopted from the CC Humane Society.

“Ring the Bell” Create an online capacity for citizens to celebrate achievement by ringing the bell, with LED screen describing their event, but also just people hearing it and knowing that someone’s smiling.

All cultures depend on shared ritual, knowledge, experience, and play. Perhaps the bell can ring to provoke a valued, community action, such as dance, hugging, recycling, sleeping, exercising, etc. that can be practiced as a community.

The installation included voting ballets, voting boxes, access to a website that held Karson’s research, video of a similar bell being made at the Meneely Bell Company, the striker from the bell and an architectural drawing of the Firehouse and its bell tower. Video by Steve Seremeth.

This installation was included in Critical Making Montreal.

Innovation on the Waterfront

We’d like to take this moment to advocate for five projects submitted to Burlington City’s Public Investment Action Plan (PIAP).

Battery Park-Waterfront Park Pedestrian Connection (1) and Signs of the Times (4) are highlighted in this Seven Days Newspaper Article – Check it out!

All images by Ken Mills

1. Battery Park-Waterfront Park Pedestrian Connection: Using Manhattan’s High-Line as inspiration, we envision a new pedestrian ramp/stairway/walkway connecting Battery Park Extension at Pearl Street and at Cherry Street as well as the north end of Battery Park to the existing pedestrian rail crossing located at Waterfront Park’s midpoint, halfway between The Echo Science Center and the Coast Guard Station.

2. Eco-Boardwalk: This project envisions a circular above-ground boardwalk that transverses the wetland and natural preserve while protecting its integrity; Seating decks along the waterfront allow for relaxation, contemplation, or simple viewing of the dramatic Lake Champlain while protecting the shoreline from human activity. Signs along the trail inform (perhaps interactively via a smartapp) the visitor of the geological, ecological, historical, and cultural significance of the area.

3. Moran Vertical Park: Green roofs are often an intriguing but abstract conception, because rarely are the sites accessible by any of the public and most importantly, they cannot be seen from the ground level. Our proposal seeks to directly link a series of overlapping green roofs with the bike and walking paths, and to create a series of businesses, performance space, and workshop space located within the re-interpreted structure.

4. Signs of the Times: The entire Burlington waterfront is the site for a broad range of interests, ideas, history, business, and interpretation. Creating a smartphone / tablet application that delves into all of these, and allows for a series of links that allows anyone to explore in great depth any applicable topic related to the waterfront, can become a model for urban areas across the country.

5. The Electric Works: The reclamation of the post-industrial waterfront Moran facility, with its high ceilings, concrete floor, and conceptual ties to this new use, is ideal for maker activities. It gives makers of all stripe the physical space, the use of a common pool of expensive tools, the flexibility of terms and space, and the ability to make noise and spectacle without incurring neighbor complaint, all on a relatively low budget.

Connectivity Lab Live at Malmö University, Sweden

IBM Chief Scientist John Cohn and Jenn speak at Connectivity Lab Live, Malmö University, Sweden. It was a great opportunity to introduce Vermont Makers, swap stories about the maker movement and share our explorations arts, science and technology. To learn more see the links and video documentation below.




Connectivity Lab Live at Malmö University, Sweden

In December 2012 IBM Chief Scientist John Cohn and I participated remotely in Connectivity Lab Live at Malmö University in Sweden. It was a great opportunity to introduce Vermont Makers, swap stories about the maker movement and share our explorations arts, science and technology. To learn more see the links and video documentation below.


Connectivity Lab Website

BM Chief Scientist John Cohn and artist Jenn Karson speak at Connectivity Lab Live, Malmö University, Sweden

SparkFun Electronics Interview

This interview was originally posted on the SparkFun website:
by Chelsea the Destroyer | January 17, 2013
Photo of Jenn by Matt Thorsen for Seven Days

SparkFun’s Department of Education engages in educational outreach all over the country, and we’re always impressed and excited when we run into people and organizations as enthusiastic about electronics as we are. Over the past few years we’ve met a lot of people involved in the maker movement on the east coast, and Vermont continues to stand out as a state invested in furthering STEAM and electronics education in new ways. (In fact, Vermont’s Department of Education recently instituted a grant structure that will give SparkFun Inventor Kits to Career and Technical Education Centers around the state to provide preliminary Arduino training for FIRST Robotics teams!)

One of our friends in Vermont is Jenn Karson, who is on the forefront of the maker and open source movements in Vermont, and has worked with SparkFun on several educational endeavors, including the Champlain Mini Maker Faire! We recently caught up with her to talk about her experiences.

Photo by Matthew Thorsen for Seven Days

1. Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?

I live in the Greater Burlington area of Vermont and have for most of my life. In the last decade, my arts practice transitioned from the performing arts (as a vocalist and songwriter) to the fine arts and specifically sound arts. I’ve also always worked in non-profit communications pretty consistently.

In about 2005, I was really struck by how flexible and accessible digital technology had become. In my non-profit communications work, this was evident in work I was doing with video, graphic design and the web, and in my art practice it was evident in that for the first time I had my own home recording studio and portable digital recording gear. I decided that I wanted to take some time to study what all this new flexibility and accessibility could do when pushed to extremes in a fine arts context, and I also wanted to explore what it might mean for society on an everyday practical level. The San Francisco Art Institute turned out to be the best place for me to study both.

2. How did you become involved in the Vermont Makers? What is your experience and history with hackerspaces, electronics and open source?

I am the founder of two small studios, Sesamedia and Studio Ju Ju. I’m also a co-founder of Vermont Makers. I was introduced to open-source technologies and Arduino (and SparkFun) in 2007 when I was working toward an MFA in Design and Technology at the San Francisco Art Institute. I mainly use the Arduino to build interactive sound installations and sound art pieces, and I also help creative and community initiatives use open-source software like Joomla! and WordPress.

3. Can you tell us more about what Sesamedia does and how it operates?

My studios work in tandem. Sesamedia provides services to community organizations and creative initiatives in open-source software and hardware – this includes project management, consulting, education and training. Sesamedia also sponsors many maker events in Vermont. I also get hired to build with open-source software and hardware – for example, websites (software) and art installations (hardware). My projects in the fine arts are managed by Studio Ju Ju.

By offering very practical products and services through Sesamedia, I get the freedom to experiment with technology on the fringe. My business clients may never need some of the more esoteric technologies I like to create and explore, but I think that the wide scope of my engagement in technology makes me a better consultant for any client who wants to do something new with technology, even if it is just their first website. I am starting to build relationships with institutions that support the arts, science, and technology in education. Here, I’m finding that my work in exploring the fringe really has a place; people are interested and they want to learn more – and I want to learn from them.

Vermont Makers is opening up a new dialog around contemporary culture and technology with partners like SparkFun. From one perspective, these conversations are creating a new social space on a local level. I’m not talking about an actual physical space – we have our events at different places and conversations happen all over town – I’m talking about a new social space that makes social room for a dialogue I think people desperately want to have, which is: “What does all this new technology mean, and how might we empower the average person to make and use technology in ways that improve the quality of life for individuals and for our community?”

In Vermont, these conversations, like many of our conversations here, take on the concerns of ecological and humanitarian values. I think the maker subculture brings sparks of optimism and enthusiasm to these conversations, making them inspiring, fun and deeply meaningful, as does the camaraderie I’m finding with others I meet through Vermont Makers.

4. You have been helping SparkFun with some of our educational initiatives around open source hardware. Can you tell us more about your involvement with that and other educational campaigns?

I help organize and sponsor educational local SparkFun events with Jeff Branson, one of SparkFun’s educational outreach coordinators. When Jeff visits with us, he gives us practical information and knowledge about new products, and shares with us really interesting technologies and organizations he’s discovered in his travels. He also conducts workshops here in VT that often spin off into new programs that take root locally. Even more, he gives us a big picture perspective on what is going on in our relatively small state.

5. Have you been involved in other remote collaborations with SparkFun?

Jeff and I (with the help of another member of Vermont Makers, Eric Hall) have been exploring the opportunities of working with ‘Internet of Things’ technologies and remote collaborations. For one event, we took readings using Arduinos from Colorado and Vermont, and then ran them through max/MSP to generate a spontaneous sound collage. This was for a presentation to public school educators in Vermont. We’ve also been experimenting with weather balloons – taking readings, sending them online, and then exploring what kind of art the data might make. One thing we came across right away is that a weather balloon takes on a whole new aesthetic life when you tether it to the earth, and people can actually fix their gaze upon one. Many people – and most kids – have never seen a weather balloon, so when we’ve brought them out to the Champlain Maker Faire and Vermont Tech Jam, people first get fascinated by the aesthetic: What’s up with that huge balloon?! This becomes a great opening to talk about both the practical technology of a DIY weather balloon, and about my so-far-unsuccessful attempts to make art with this technology. This is the joy of collaborating with Jeff and SparkFun, we bring people right into our explorations – the success and the failures – the fun is in the process.

Dave gets in on the weather balloon action at the Champlain Mini Maker Faire

Thanks so much Jenn; keep up the good work; we hope to see you soon!

Thank YOU SparkFun for all the great support you provide for Vermont innovation.

Connectivity Lab Live at Malmö University, Sweden

In December 2012 IBM Chief Scientist John Cohn and I participated remotely in Connectivity Lab Live at Malmö University in Sweden. It was a great opportunity to introduce Vermont Makers, swap stories about the maker movement and share our explorations arts, science and technology. To learn more see the links and video documentation below.



Connectivity Lab Website

BM Chief Scientist John Cohn and artist Jenn Karson speak at Connectivity Lab Live, Malmö University, Sweden


An office intercom still works, its switches clearly labeled North Corr., Bubble Office, Dining Room, Kitchen, Ground Activity, etc. We flick its switches and listen to the rooms, each one echoes a unique memory and its own sound, each room sounding a distinctive blend of overtones and textures. The slow damp decay of the building’s structure holds all this. This sound piece begins to imagine the release.



When and Where:

A sound installation at:

Art Installation and Closure Ceremony

Saturday, October 27, 2012
Sunday, October 28, 2012

Photographs of the hospital that were included in the exhibition 

Read more in this VT Digger article 


This sound composition is created from recordings made in Dale and Brooks on October 19, 2012 – just over a year after the hospital was evacuated due to floodwater damage from Tropical Storm Irene. The Vermont State Hospital was officially closed on October 20, 2011.

The building’s mechanics dominate its inner soundscape with churning, humming and buzzing that echoes in its empty hallways and rooms. Outside and heard through open windows, the area is circled by sounds of traffic, birds, the Vermonter train and the river. On this day it is raining.

An office intercom still works, its switches clearly labeled North Corr., Bubble Office, Dining Room, Kitchen, Ground Activity, etc. We flick its switches and listen to the rooms, each one echoes a unique memory and its own sound, each room sounding a distinctive blend of overtones and textures. The slow damp decay of the building’s structure holds all this. This sound piece begins to imagine the release.

Lighting by Jeffrey Salzberg

Thank you to Tom Stevens and Kevin Rogers.


The Vermont State Hospital in its early days.

Construction for the Vermont State Asylum for the Insane began in 1891. It was expanded and modernized through the early 1960s. 1963 – 2011 is considered a period of deinstitutionalization for the campus.  The hospital was evacuated due to floodwater damage from Tropical Storm Irene in the fall of 2011. For more information about the history of Asylums in the U.S and around the world:

Read more in this VT Digger article 

Installation Experience:

The Installation RELEASED is projected through two sets of speakers, one set is inside the blue room listening area, the other set outside and directed toward the open sky. As you listen to the composition in the contained space of the blue room, at the same time it is released out into the open air.


Listen to RELEASED.

Released. Waterbury, Vermont 2012
Looking into the blue-lit room from outside the hospital. The installation sounded inside the blue room and was also “released” into the open air from speakers on the roof of the building.




When and Where:

On location at the stone quarries at Millstone Hill in Barre Town, Vermont.

As part of the group exhibition ON THE PLANET

Presented by Studio Place Arts.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010: 5:00 – 6:30 pm
Sunday, September 5, 2010: 3:00 – 5:30 pm


SOUNDS OF A STONE HOME is a shimmer of sound that explores the comings and goings of the creatures, people and things who inhabit the stonequarries at Millstone Hill in Barre Town, Vermont.

This place is both abandoned and found. Tall walls of cut stone are stacked in these woods. Trees grow from their cracks and wildlife dwells in their crevices. Nearby stone quarries are flooded with blue-green water. What was once the metal and wood track of the railroad is now a grassy path that meanders through the past and present.

Exhibition Experience:

A remix of the the quarry’s natures and cultures was amplified from the stones that align the now grassy paths hiking and biking paths. Carefully placed “Listen” signage was placed nearby.

One hundred years ago, Millstone Hill was the site of over 75 small independent quarry operations, fueling Barre’s dramatic 19th century growth and prosperity. Virtually every square foot of millstone hill was cleared and quarried. During the 20th century, as quarry operations consolidated, these smaller independents closed down. Gradually the quarries filled with water and the forest returned. What was a virtual industrial wasteland was reclaimed by nature.



Seven Days Review


Champlain Sound and Color - Burlington VT - Paris
Champlain Sound and Color. Pictured here is the color stream projected at La Bellevilloise gallery in Paris, France. The stream was live from the ECHO Center in Burlington VT.



Artists: Jenn Karson, Matt Larson

When and Where

In April 2010 CiTu labs of the University of Paris held the first synchronized international event for The Art Collider. In Vermont, sound artist Jenn Karson and photographer Matt Larson participated from ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center in Burlington, Vermont. They contributed live sound and video streams from the Burlington Waterfront using max/MSP.

The Art Collider is an online platform that supports a collaborative creation of media art through a system of Peer-to-Peer and Artist-to-Artist production.

Sites in the Paris, Montreal, San Francisco, New York & Linz participated in the event.


Lake Champlain is a place of global history and natural beauty. Its cultural communities have included
the native Abnaki, early French & British settlers. Presently Burlington is a place of
Asian and African refugee resettlement programs. Traffic from Burlington’s international airport is a dominant element of the Lake’s soundscape. Accompanying its cultural communities are its natural communities. Spring in Vermont is always a dynamic season, a combination of snowfall and snow melt, mud and ice, rain, sleet, sun and frost. It is a time when people and the animals who made their way south for the winter, return. Currently, the weather in the area is more turbulent than usual as the northeast region of the United States is experiencing record flooding and temperatures.

Sound and Color: Exploring Time and Place on the Lake Champlain Waterfront is an exploration of
these natures and cultures that are the Lake Champlain Waterfront.

The Streams

Champlain Sound Stream