Shadow Sounds

The Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery plunges three stories beneath the National Mall. But to celebrate its 25th anniversary, the museum looked to the sky for one of its centerpiece exhibitions: “Shadow Sites II,” an aerial landscape video by Iraqi artist Jananne Al-Ani.

Al-Ani’s images of rural Jordan reveal the Earth’s mesmerizing textures as seen from high above; they’re also a commentary on how those who live outside the region can see Arab lands as depersonalized, depopulated spaces. But what nudges “Shadow Sites II” into an ominous realm is the ambient score provided by British sound artist Ross Adams.

Adams uses a subtly menacing drone to evoke a surveillance airplane’s hum, then mixes industrial sounds — such as blurts of radio static — with wind, disembodied voices and birds, providing interpretive sonic snapshots of the landscapes.

Without the audio, it would be easy to revel in the sepia-softened images’ enigmatic aesthetics. But as I sat in the dark, below the ground, it felt like something bad was happening high in the sky.

Listen to the soundtrack here.

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