NEAL CONAN, host:
When you visit your favorite museum and pick up one of those audio guides, we're sure they sound absolutely nothing like this.
(Soundbite from audio guide)
Unidentified Woman: Bonjour, monsieur!
Unidentified Man: Ahh!
Unidentified Woman: Bonjour!
Unidentified Man: ...(Unintelligible) you're going to dance for me tonight?
Unidentified Woman: Oui. Je cancan.
Unidentified Man: Cancan? You can, I can.
(Soundbite of spring noise)
Unidentified Woman: Monsieur, you make me blush.
Unidentified Man: These legs, this flash of the dress, the spirit of happiness and joy.
Unidentified Woman: You lift me?
(Soundbite of squeaky toy)
Unidentified Man: I suppose I can. I do weight lifting...
CONAN: What you just heard is dramatic interpretation of Max Pechstein's "Pair of Dancers," the famous painting on display at MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art. Students at Marymount Manhattan College in New York produced it as one of several unofficial audio guides to MOMA. It's part of their organizational communications course. David Gilbert is the professor, and he's been inspired to remix the traditional museum tour. His class' audio guides can be downloaded to an iPod and enjoyed while visiting the museum. He, in the meantime, joins us from McMinnville in Tennessee.
Nice of you to be with us today.
Professor DAVID GILBERT (Marymount Manhattan College): Oh, thank you, Neal.
CONAN: So these are a little different from what you would ordinarily expect from one of those audio guides.
Prof. GILBERT: Well, they're a little different. We could afford to be playful and irreverent where we wanted to be and creative. In a sense, they're commentaries, some of them are, but as the one you just sampled from, as it shows, some of them are also sort of dramatic interpretations or artistic supplements to the work.
CONAN: How'd you come up with this idea?
Prof. GILBERT: Well, we had a few sources. You know, I'm a big fan of public radio and I and my students listen to "This American Life" and am really engaged by good storytelling in audio. And we noticed that at MOMA, the audio tours for children, the ones that they offer for children, which are separate from the ones they offer for adults, are really engaging. They tell a story. They create a sense of atmosphere. They have sound and music. And so we wanted to make something fun for adults.
CONAN: And so this is somewhat more fun. What are some of your favorites?
Prof. GILBERT: Well, you know, we just got--we're inviting people to submit these to us, and it's really, you know, in a sense an open-source audio guide project. We're asking people to, you know, send us their own audio guides to MOMA, and we'll add them to our feed, and I just received one last night which is for Robert Rauschenberg's "Bed," and it's just a fantastic, fantastic piece that involves some music, slide guitar music, sort of ethereal, sort of west Texas kind of expansive sort of slide guitar music with a poem by Adrian Rich(ph), which is about Rauschenberg's artwork itself, and it's just a fascinating piece, and this is what we love to hear when people do these kind of really creative things.
CONAN: And with these, presumably you could arrange your own tour.
Prof. GILBERT: Absolutely. We're getting enough now that we could pretty much--you could spend--you could take our audio guides into MOMA and you could spend over an hour there right now just listening to the stuff that we have.
CONAN: How does this fit into your course at Marymount?
Prof. GILBERT: Well, a couple of ways. It's a course in organizational communication, and in one way, like, I want my students to know that they can take an active posture in relation to organizations which are around them, that they can--you know, publics don't have to be passive. Consumers of organizations, they don't have to--we don't have to remain passive in the face or organizations. We don't have to remain passive in the face of art museums. We can participate. We can give something back. We can remix things that the organ--that are of use to people who deal with organizations every day.
CONAN: Are you gonna expand this to other museums? Maybe a skateboard tour of The Guggenheim?
Prof. GILBERT: Well, I think that sounds fascinating, but we'll have to leave that to other people. One of the things we hope to do was to try to inspire people to do this elsewhere, and we've had people contact us from the West Coast, from Germany, from France, from, you know, Boston, lots of places here in the States, asking us how to replicate it, how they could do it, and I think that there are a lot of people already starting to figure out that with cheaply available digital technology now, that they can, you know, do it themselves. They can create culture and remix culture and add stuff back without, you know--which we think is really good, and we think that, you know, it's a tribute to MOMA, it's a tribute to the great art that's there, and we hope that it brings more people into MOMA and more people to engage actively the art that they see rather than feeling like that they just sort have to passively consume it.
CONAN: Well, think about the Natural History Museum. That'd be a challenge, too. David Gilbert, good luck. Thank you.
Prof. GILBERT: Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: David Gilbert, a professor of organizational communication at Marymount Manhattan College, and he joined us from McMinnville in Tennessee.
This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan.