Collection Rotation: Carson Bell: Animals at 45rpm

Our regular feature, “Collection Rotation“. Once a month I invite a local guest to organize lists, groupings, or ‘exhibitions’ from our permanent collection. Our fabulous guest this month is Carson Bell, Curatorial Specialist at the California Library of Natural Sounds, at the Oakland Museum. Wait til you see/hear what he’s done for you! He includes notes about his selections along the way. Thank you, Carson!

Liner Notes: When I was four years old I picked up the wonderfully colored and detailed Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album from my parent’s record collection and stared at the cover. My tiny hands fumbled as I flipped the record over and over, playing it for hours on end. Since that moment the relationship between sound and image has played an important role in my life.

The chance to pair works from the impressive SFMOMA collection with audio recordings from the California Library of Natural Sounds is incredibly exciting for me. While recording music or ambient sounds I am constantly visualizing cinematic images to accompany the audio. The following Collection Rotation is my attempt to use works of art as album covers for my ‘7″-singles collection’ of sounds from the natural world.


The Northern Elephant Seal is my favorite California mammal. The male Elephant Seal makes wild vocalizations with his large nose, or proboscis, when he fights with other males for the attention of females. Gorky’s Enigmatic Combat immediately brings to mind the chaotic and humorous sounds of an Elephant Seal harem.

Arshile Gorky, Enigmatic Combat

Arshile Gorky, Enigmatic Combat, 1936-1937, Collection SFMOMA, and the Northern Elephant Seal

This haunting image of Man Ray’s Untitled (Rayograph) seems to buzz like the strange electronic sound made by the Varied Thrush. The Thrush produces sounds from a divided vocal box, or syrinx, which is separated into two chambers. The birds can control each side separately.

Man Ray, Untitled (Rayograph)

Man Ray, Untitled (Rayograph), 1920s, Collection SFMOMA, Gift of Robert Shapazian

Ruge’s parachute photo gives the viewer a spectacular view of flight, much like a male red-tailed hawk. The hawk will go into a sudden, steep nosedive during his courtship display, while making a raspy cry. Each expresses its movement with dramatic effect.

Willi Ruge, Aviation

Willi Ruge, Aviation, ca. 1931, Collection SFMOMA, Accessions Committee Fund

Peregrine Falcons have been known to nest on man-made structures like bridges. Two of the most famous Peregrines, George and Gracie, chose to nest on the Bay Bridge in 2007.

Joseph Stella, Bridge

Joseph Stella, Bridge, 1936, WPA Federal Arts Project

The Hermit Thrush’s song is an echoing, fluty warble that helps the male project his message. The dizzying quality of Sheeler’s Aerial Gyrations instantly reminds me of the Hermit Thrush call.

Charles Sheeler, Aerial Gyrations

Charles Sheeler, Aerial Gyrations, 1953, Collection SFMOMA, Mrs. Manfred Bransten Special Fund purchase

Like Eggleston’s brilliant photo brimming with red, the male Red-winged Blackbird shows off his striking red shoulders. The Red-winged Blackbird’s vibrant red coloring and loud, raucous song are used to defend his territory and attract a mate.


William Eggleston, Untitled, Greenwood Mississippi, 1973, 1973, Collection SFMOMA, Gift of a friend of the Museum

In my opinion, the Lazuli Bunting not only has the best name in the bird world, but is also one of the most striking-looking. Diebenkorn’s Berkeley #57’s wonderful mix of blues and yellows immediately reminds me of the Bunting’s beauty.

Richard Diebenkorn, Berkeley #57

Richard Diebenkorn, Berkeley #57, 1955, Collection SFMOMA

Bison shakes the alphabet.

Jack Stauffacher, Untitled, from the series Shifting and Inking

Jack W. Stauffacher, Untitled, from the series, Shifting and Inking, 1967

All recordings © California Library of Natural Sounds and the Oakland Museum of California.

Carson Bell is the Curatorial Specialist for the California Library of Natural Sounds (CLNS) located at the Oakland Museum of California. Carson is a graduate of the California College of the Arts with a degree in Film and Video. He has worked in the music industry for over ten years, writing, producing records, and performing for Bay Area acts The Pattern and The Cuts, and has toured as a session musician for New York-based band The Mooney Suzuki. Carson is currently working on developing interactive media exhibits for the Oakland Museum of California and recording natural sounds for the CLNS collection.

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