soundscape new york museum exhibit

New Yorkers and city visitors pass through prominent New York City buildings like Grand Central Station and Rockefeller Center every single day, yet the architectural landmarks still hold deep mysteries through sound and space. But the Museum of the City of New York is inviting visitors to experience NYC in a new, immersive way through an audiovisual installation, “Soundscape New York,” opening this week.

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There are many ways to visually analyze architecture through print and digital drawings and models, but we can also explore the environment through other senses like sound to understand design. “Soundscape New York” invites museum-goers to tune in to the aural experience of architecture. Created through a collaborative effort between University of Virginia architecture professor Karen Van Lengen, FAIA, and artist James Welty, “Soundscape New York” pairs actual sounds of 13 iconic Manhattan interiors with visual animations projected on a panoramic screen. The installation presents drawings and animations that visually interpret these spaces’ distinctive aural qualities.

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Grand Central Terminal’s soundscape, for example, features an oceanic-style animation with clangs, echoes, and quick crescendos of intensity, transporting the listener to the midst of the station’s daily bustle, and amplifying its status as a primary transportation portal to and from New York City. (Pictured above is an animated interpretation and street view sketch of Grand Central Terminal). Visitors can also experience the soundscapes of Rockefeller Center, the New York Public Library Reading Room, and the Guggenheim Museum.

soundscape new york museum exhibitAn animated interpretation of the Guggenheim Museum.

soundscape new york museum exhibitAn animated interpretation of the Seagram Building lobby.

soundscape new york museum exhibitAn animated interpretation of the New York Public Library.

soundscape new york museum exhibitAn animated interpretation of Rockefeller Center.

As a fellow for the Institute for Advanced Technologies in the Humanities, Van Lengen started working on the project with Welty in 2012. In each building, she recorded and listened for particular sounds, such as trains arriving and departing at Grand Central Terminal, to be considered the most characteristic of each space. She then worked with these distinct, 60-second sound bytes to create abstract drawings to visually interpret the ambient background noises and distinguished sounds.

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Welty then further developed these images to give them a 3-D animated spin on the aural experience. He also used the sound clips to produce new, intensified musical compositions. Each building showcases their most influential factors in creating sound, such as the approximate number of people in the space, composition of materials, and the building’s architectural configuration.

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“We are thrilled to have ‘Soundscape New York’ on view, allowing people to experience some of the city’s quintessential places in such an innovative way,” said Susan Henshaw Jones, Ronay Menschel Director of the Museum of the City of New York, in a press release.

“The installation allows visitors to connect with New York in a heightened way that they wouldn’t receive by simply walking through a space.”

Visit Museum of the City of New York’s “Soundscape New York” exhibit from March 10 to June 7.

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Photos courtesy of Jim Welty and Karen Van Lengen for MCNY

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