Once Upon a Time in Bethlehem

An Interactive Sound Installation – Banana Factory, Bethlehem, PA


George Shortess


As viewers moved among the furniture and other artifacts from the period, 1930-1950, they head voices recalling childhood events of the period.  I interviewed six people who grew up on the South Side of Bethlehem, PA.  Short meaningful segments from these interviews were digitally recorded and loaded into four samplers.  By means of four specially customized computers, the sensors hidden from view, triggered the samplers to play the recorded segments.   The patterns and numbers of the segments were randomized, so that viewers might hear one or several segments at any one time.

Some recorded segments were:

“Whistle and machinery sounds at The Steel”

“Nut roll, poppy seed roll, crackling biscuits”

“My father died working at the Steel.”

“The alphabet thing for jumping rope.”

“Every Saturday at noon I got fifteen cents.”


 The visual objects included furniture, clothing, kitchen utensils, games, books, toys, a sewing machine and photographs. The material was arranged in the gallery, in adjoining areas - a living room, a child’s play area, a kitchen.  In addition, longer stories from the interviews were printed on the walls.  The photos included here are of several areas of the gallery space and one of the photographs from the period.