by Cj Stephens
Professor Christopher Yates and Molly Davis, Director of Administration, graciously led a group of Cohort ’17 students through the grey winter streets of Manhattan, on a quest to the Museum of Arts and Design. As we entered the museum, our bodies filed in like a long caterpillar in sections that pushed and pulled, but that ultimately, lined back up in a circle around our docent, Gillie Holme. As she fastidiously introduced us to the show at large, Sonic Arcade: Shaping Space with Sound, Gillie exuded passion, leading us to engage with the immersive and multi-faceted environments of the show.
Our first room was the Polyphonic Playground. We were to take our shoes (boots) off and use the wooden swing-set, slide, ladders with rungs and other climbing apparatus. It was as though we were allowed to play in the music room in the House of Dostoevsky. While we moved about, our tactile information was being relayed back to us as sound, one note per contact, from a large white speaker. Our multiplicity in playing reduced a multiplicity of sound to one outlet, one speaker reflecting our actions back to us with audio. With many people interacting, it was impossible to differentiate which notes came from what activity, unless the group made a decision to organize and experiment.
Polyphonic Playground was created by Studio PSK, a creative design studio based in London, UK. Their use of interactive digital environments offers a unique group experience focused on the organization of playing with sound and material. The sounds are like notes on a keyboard, and as a group climbs, slides and swings on the structures, they produce a symphony of tones and tempos.
Gillie brought us to another room in the show, an installation by Naama Tsabar called Propagation (Opus 3). Once again we were directed to interact, this time with an aesthetically pleasing wall of buttons, wires, and speakers that all produced sound. This compelling sensory experience reoriented our bodies to the mind: the idea that this wall of parts was a giant whole, a musical instrument in totality. Tsabar’s components are part of the architecture that sound waves propagate through. In her work, she creates a sculptural environment that induces movement and interactions from her audience through sound. The audience experiences an immediacy and has a sense of being tangibly related to the environment and its relational affect.
Throughout the show, Sonic Arcade, Gillie introduced us to varied new ways of considering our environment as determined by interpersonal potentials. The auditory experiences were a dynamic and happily polyphonic mid-week twist from our very cerebral and philosophical emphasis at the beginning of our NYC winter residency.