( Courtesy of the artist <a href="http://touchon.com/" target="_blank">Cecil Touchon</a> and the <a href="http://searspeyton.com/html/artistresults.asp?artist=80&testing=true">Sears/Peyton Gallery</a> i
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Last fall, I visited the new New York Times Building in Manhattan where an exhibit in the building's lobby recreated the lost sounds of newsrooms past, using the technology of the past. Technology's always been part of the news business, ever since moveable type, some might argue since the invention of the quill.
But the technology keeps changing, and in our lifetimes we've heard it change from this: [TYPING CLATTER/NEWSROOM HUBBUB] - to this. [SILENCE] The spanking new New York Times newsroom. DAVID CARR: People like to come here, they do. BROOKE GLADSTONE: David Carr covers media for The Times. DAVID CARR: They really like to come here, but if you guys look around much, you go, well, this looks like a very nicely appointed insurance company. It's really quiet. It's kind of churchy. And like if you every really lose it and start screaming your head off, which you're not really a newsman if you don't, you're really going to stick out. BEN RUBIN: The process of making the newspaper used to be filled with sound. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Artist, Ben Rubin. BEN RUBIN: There was the clatter of typewriters in the newsroom itself. There were the sounds of all the machinery from the teletype machines that would clank away with the incoming news from the wire services to the linotype machines that were slamming away, manipulating hot lead to make these printing plates, and then the printing presses themselves, which at a certain time of the night would kick in and start to rumble and shake the building. And you could smell it. You could hear it. You could see it. BROOKE GLADSTONE: You can no longer smell it, hear it or see it. In fact, it's so quiet in the newsroom that The Times has had to figure out a way to mask that silence. They've done so using something called pink noise, which has a sound like running water. Ben Rubin. BEN RUBIN: The room tone in this building is synthetic. There's a gentle underlying pink noise that comes from pink noise-generating machines. And when there was a newsroom that was filled with typewriters banging away, they created almost a sense of privacy because there was this noise floor of that banging sound of the keys hitting the paper. And now that all that is silenced out there's, actually, a need to fill that void. BROOKE GLADSTONE: That void is filled, in a way, in the lobby. [SYNTHETIC NEWSROOM SOUNDS] - in the form of a piece of art, an installation called Moveable Type. What you hear are synthesized sounds of ancient typewriters, teletype machines, rotary phones. Sometimes you hear the whoosh of sonar or the fracas of buzzers. And what you see are words, thousands of them, cascading across more than 500 small gray screens hanging in columns along the long walls of the central lobby. [SYNTHETIC HUBBUB SOUNDS IN BACKGROUND It's a massive grid, a checkerboard of portholes into the minds of a thousand scribes. The screens work together, offering fragments of the day's paper, the month's papers or 150 years of papers. The words come at you in patterns. Call them scenes. Sometimes the scenes are words pulled from letters to the editor, sometimes from the obits or wedding announcements, the crossword puzzle - a dozen scenes in all.
Sometimes the screens are filled with quotes from recent stories. Since you can't see them, we'll read them for you. MAN: I don't want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.
WOMAN: You can be comfortable, yet dressy. MAN: I have no idea why we got saved and others didn't. MAN: You have to take punishment, like a dancer. WOMAN: I am not a modern art aficionado. WOMAN: You have to sacrifice so much to the horse. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Another scene offers the day's stories reduced to their numbers. [BELL RINGS] WOMAN: One idea. WOMAN: Five-gallon buckets worth of sulfate particles in the stratosphere. WOMAN: Fifty years. WOMAN: One percent of that money. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Or questions culled from the day's news. MAN: Can anyone really agree on the definition of shifty eyes? MAN: How dare they kill our squirrels! WOMAN: How could we be a good match if he didn't approve of my hijab? MAN: Didn't the doorman object? MAN: Did it have a particular smell, like Teen Spirit? MAN: What do you like about Guantanamo? WOMAN: Who's a good dog?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: David Carr. DAVID CARR: I think what those guys have done downstairs brings a little of the magic and a little of the mystique. And there's part of writing that's - mysterious. Who knows where it comes from and who knows how these words fly [LAUGHS]? And I think that installation, with its random aphoristic scenes, kind of replicates the writing process. BROOKE GLADSTONE: The guys downstairs are New York-based artists Ben Rubin and UCLA statistics professor Mark Hansen, and they worked for about four years to produce Moveable Type. The team, which had produced art based on data before, sat down early in the process with the designer of The Times’ new headquarters, architect Renzo Piano. Ben Rubin.
BEN RUBIN: Without about 30 seconds of sitting down with him, he said to me, this piece needs to last for at least 200 years. [SOFT LAUGHTER] That was really one of the very first things he said. And, uh, uh yes, it's quite a challenge. [LAUGHS] BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mark Hansen has spent long hours in the lobby of The Times, programming natural language processing algorithms, whatever they are, to craft the scenes, scenes that will continue to play out long after Hansen and Rubin appear in the obits. I'm sure they won't mind I said that - it's quite an honor. They had to work in the lobby, because that is where the installation will live. MARK HANSEN: Some of the pacing, the rate at which things move down the hall, we kind of tuned based on how people walk. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mark Hansen. MARK HANSEN: During the letters-to-the-editor scene, that thum, thum, thum - [CLACKING SOUNDS] - I can't tell you how many times I've had groups of people with heavy shoes kind of fall into that same walking pattern because it's got that kind of rhythm. And so, when you're sitting down there, you'll stop and you’ll s - as you're programming it, you'll do something and you'll see what stops them. BROOKE GLADSTONE: Piano told the artists that the work should function as a kind of organism, with rhythms that mimic those of The Times itself, ebbing and flowing by day -
MARK HANSEN: - and at night it will dream. And the dreams will be bits of text, whole articles, sometimes pulled from the 150-year archives of The Times, sometimes totally at random, sometimes connected to something that might have appeared in that day's paper, that will sort of be - as we all do when we dream, the piece will be kind of sifting through its recent and distant memories, and sometimes making sense and sometimes not so much sense. BROOKE GLADSTONE: But Moveable Type does more than dream the dream of The Times. It depicts in ways, both graceful and jarring, meaningful and nonsensical, the ocean of bits and bytes we all swim in - the tabloid headline, the radio dispatch, the billboard, the talking head, the electronic sign, the snatch of conversation overheard. DAVID CARR: You end up with a running narrative. BROOKE GLADSTONE: David Carr.
DAVID CARR: In that sense, what those guys did downstairs, which is offering bits which are stored and recalled in ones and zeroes by all of us later and they’re assembled into some kind of comprehensible picture of the world that we live in - I think it's a really great metaphor. BROOKE GLADSTONE: And now a great newspaper has a great organism, breathing and belching and occasionally screeching in its lobby. And it will change as The Times does, as we all do. We can walk by without looking at it, but it will always be looking at us. WOMAN: I can't sleep, and it's getting under my skin. MAN: You won't live to see 40. I promise you. [SOUNDS IN BACKGROUND]
MAN: I am disgraced. I am ashamed. I let the Navy down. MAN: You can't keep doing this job forever in this day and age. MAN: I am absolutely sure he never knew what hit him. MAN: You can hear a dime drop, absolute silence. WOMAN: I don't curse, I don't yell. WOMAN: You should not even ask. MAN: I don't know what the pattern is and if there is one.