The New England Primer was the first schoolbook used in the American colonies. It taught the fundamentals of spelling and grammar through rhymes, prayers, Bible stories and cathecisms to be memorized by the students.

Selections from the New England Primer is a sound installation by Matt Gilbert and Ryan Peoples. It includes several homemade sound controllers that visitors are invited to interact with. The controllers trigger samples from recordings of the Primer’s lessons and manipulate the ambient sound in the room. Also included are schoolyard recordings and samples from the 1953 instructional film for children, “How Quiet Helps Us at School”.

Selections from the New England Primer takes the lessons from the Primer—based on rote memorization, strict discipline, and Puritan values—and turns them into material for free self-directed play and investigation.

Electronics: Matt Gilbert
Sound design: Ryan Peoples
Voice actor: Stephen LaGrand
Photos courtesy of Alex Christopher Williams and Sara Freeman