Exploring ‘The Great Outdoors,’ Andrew Bernstein’s Audio Vortex

By Courtney Sexton

A still from 'Study IV,' part of Andrew Bernstein's audiovisual project, "The Great Outdoors."
A still from 'Study IV,' part of Andrew Bernstein's audiovisual project, "The Great Outdoors."

Intense and disorienting, Andrew Bernstein’s The Great Outdoors feels like a vortex tunnel — except you can’t walk into it. To get inside, you click on a link.

The new work from Bernstein, who plays saxophone in the adventurous Baltimore quartet Horse Lords, attempts to redefine how digital real estate is used. But exploring it may mean subjecting yourself to an uncomfortable experience.

Visit Bernstein’s website for The Great Outdoors, and you’re introduced to four sets of mind-numbing video and audio. The sound portion combines sax squawks and piano notes with helicopter drones, and they’re paired with repetitive animations that are the visual equivalent of locked grooves.

If it seems like intellectual porn, that’s because it kind of is. Bernstein says The Great Outdoors is essentially the final project for his MFA at Goucher College.

“[I was] pushing myself technically and artistically to try to figure out what an album could be in the Internet age,” Bernstein says.

The composition seems like something you’d encounter in a modern art museum, but Bernstein wants to bring unconventional art to an accessible platform, making the Internet a type of everyman’s gallery. But the work is immersive and beyond the audience’s control. In The Great Outdoors’ web space, there is no play, pause or fast forward.

Bernstein says he wants his work to challenge people to see and hear things in new ways, “or pay attention to their own vision and hearing in a new dimension.” He thinks the Internet medium can help achieve that.

Andrew Bernstein of Horse Lords

Andrew Bernstein

“I’ve thought a lot about what a website is, and what websites try to do — be useful or get you to buy something,” he says. “[I] wanted to make something that … sort of didn’t have a purpose. A website that created a space that was just meant to be experienced, and not necessarily meant to do anything.”

Bernstein credits modern saxophonists and early drone music for influencing The Great Outdoors, along with Object Oriented Ontology, a domain of metaphysics that seeks to understand existence beyond a human lens. (According to scholar and game designer Ian Bogost, OOO contends that “nothing has special status” and “everything exists equally.” Bernstein says he’s still trying to wrap his head around the concept.)

However complex the theory behind it, though, The Great Outdoors synthesizes a common pre-Internet experience: It’s like staring at television static, waiting for something to emerge from the fuzz — because every now and then, something does.

Andrew Bernstein’s The Great Outdoors is out now on Ehse Records and its video accompaniment is viewable on the project’s website.