Volume 16 • Issue 53 | May 28 - June 3, 2004


Blue Moon
A sound installation by O + A, will be near North Cove in Battery Park City through the summer.

A sound installation by Shirazeh Houshiary and Pip Horne, will be outside the Ritz-Carlton, 2 West St., through January 2005.

Hearing the buzz on two Downtown installations

By Janel Bladow

“Blue Moon,” a new installation at North Cove by Bruce Odland and Sam Auinger (O +A), is one of two new sound sculptures in Battery Park City. Sounds of the river emanate from the piece, which also includes five cubes.

Two new works of art in Battery Park City are making viewers open their ears.

The sound sculptures are on opposite ends of the promenade and aural spectrum.

“Breath,” in front of the Ritz-Carlton at 2 West St., the south anchor of B.P.C., emits low, soothing religious chants while “Blue Moon,” up by the North Cove marina on the water side of the Winter Garden, harnesses and instantly replays everyday background noises.

The two audio installations are part of New Sound, New York, a citywide festival organized by The Kitchen and Cooper Union’s Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture. “Blue Moon” can be experienced through the summer while “Breath” is viewable through January 2005.

“Breath” is a 20-foot cream-colored ceramic brick tower shaped like a double helix, created by London-based artists Shirazeh Houshiary and Pip Horne. Concealed inside is a sound system that gives off a low sequence of four spiritual vocal tracks daily from dawn to dusk.

The 18-minute loop is a low hum intermingled with four religious prayers or songs: the Azan, the Islamic call to prayer; a Jewish tribute to the invisible god; tonal breathing exercises of Buddhist monks; and “O Jerusalem,” a Christian work by 12th-century composer Hildegard Von Bingen. This modern-day Tower of Babel is designed to spiral upward with a sense of perpetual motion and symbolize Downtown skyscrapers, twisted baroque pillars and Islamic decorative tiles.

“We have tried to animate the site with the movement of the tower to engage the passersby so that they would be drawn to the work,” Houshiary wrote in an e-mail. She and her husband, Horne, have collaborated on five towers before this. “The religious chants carried on the wind are barely audible until in close proximity of the glazed brick surface. The chants remind us of our common roots and alert us to concerns and crises of our time.

“Towers have been the aspiration of all cultures and in a city obsessed by towering architecture and traumatized by recent events we hope that ‘Breath’ will spread the word and remind us of our common roots,” Houshiary said.

“Blue Moon,” by O + A, artists Bruce Odland and Sam Auinger, captures everyday sounds with the coming and going of the river’s tides. Three u-shaped tuning tubes, from eight to 18-feet long, are wired with microphones and suspended over the harbor. Switches placed at several different levels are activated as the tides rise and fall.

The tubes collect and filter ambient noise – docking commuter ferries, helicopters, planes, car horns, birds, crashing waves and gentle breezes. The sounds are converted into music by generating an “overtone series of perfect harmonic proportions,” according to the artists’ statement.

For example, at low tide only one tube is working, producing one harmonic series of tones, while at high tide, all three overtones are heard at once, creating rich, complex symphonic chords.

Five custom-created blue cube loudspeakers mix the tones and send the sounds out among the passersby in all directions. Arranged in an arc, the cubes also act as street furniture where listeners can stop and experience the range of sounds.

The piece’s title, “Blue Moon,” refers to the cycles of the moon and tides, specifically to a blue moon, when two full moons happen in one month. July will have the next blue moon.

The North Cove location is ideal for the piece, says Odland who has been working with Auinger on sound art since 1987, because there are no cars.

“This allows us to actually hear the other sounds of the city,” Odland wrote in an e-mail, “including water, waves, boats moored in the harbor, ventilation systems for tall buildings, echoes from the canyons of glass as generated by an armada of helicopters carrying great personages to the tall buildings, jets, ferry boats and the whole array of shipping which keeps our fine city alive, the hum of the power grid from both NYC and New Jersey, and many other sounds of interest not yet identified.”

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