You probably know about Humans of New York and the photographer Brandon Stanton, who gets strangers to tell him how they really feel. I was reminded of his work when I read this NY Times story about an artist and musician who invited strangers to answer offbeat questions about their lives and then used the material to write songs for them.
Reporter Alex Vadukul attended a gallery exhibition of the work in February.
He writes, “The crinkled papers pinned across the small Chinatown gallery’s walls … contained scrawled drawings and questions: ‘Do you know your limits yet?’ ‘Most recent Google query?’ and ‘Were you ever involved with the occult?’
“They were not pointlessly esoteric. Grey Gersten, an artist and musician, had designed them to gather information he then used to compose songs about strangers; individuals filled them out for him two summers ago during rapid 20-minute song-making appointments for his project, ‘Custom Melodies.’ …
“Mr. Gersten, 32, worked from an impromptu music studio inside the Mmuseumm, a peculiar contemporary museum the size of an elevator shaft in the narrow Cortlandt Alley in TriBeCa, where people handed him the papers through a window opening. The forms, posing questions personal and abstract, helped him explore a concept: Can you bottle a stranger’s essence in a song? The resulting compositions were played publicly at the Chinatown Soup gallery on [Feb. 5, 2016] and varied from ambient and sonic to poppy and feverish.
“People wandered through the space studying the papers on the walls, but a few sought their own original forms. …
“Josh Koenigsberg, 31, who sat for a song appointment, also tracked down his form at the gallery. … He recalled: ‘It was like going to a doctor’s office, except you filled out the last dream you had or the last time you got goose bumps. And he studied your form like he was a doctor.’ (One man at the event described it as a ‘takeout window for music.’)
“Another participant, Philip Weinrobe, 34, found his form hanging beside the gallery’s busy bar. It indicated his earliest memory was ‘sitting in a playground and looking up,’ that his favorite advice is ‘measure twice, cut once,’ and that at the time his last Google search was, ‘Why aren’t my marigolds flowering?’ ”
Photo: Emon Hassan for The New York Times