Students create interactive music
One of my favorite things that happens during the Leonard Bernstein Festival of the Creative Arts each year is the transformation of mundane spaces on campus. This year, Slosberg Music Center became a museum of sound for a night. Six exhibits, each curated by a graduate student taking “MUS 196b: Sound in Space” with Assistant Professor of Music Dr. Erin Gee, filled the classrooms of Slosberg with new and exciting sound installments, most of which had interactive aspects for visitors to explore as they wandered about the building.
In the main recital hall, the room was filled with the sounds of the “Moon Ball,” a 3D-printed orb set on a plinth in the center of the auditorium, which audience members could pick up and move between their hands. When the ball was moved around, it influenced the sounds echoing from the room’s speakers, changing it from ambient noise to beautiful recordings of lullabies from around the world, giving this exhibit its name, “Lullaby for the Earth.”
Another interactive exhibit, “Conducting Bernstein,” allowed visitors to wave their hands under a motion sensor, which caused the audio feedback to switch between a playlist of classical pieces and a recorded lecture given by Leonard Bernstein himself. Through this, one could feel themselves playing an active role in the influencing of Bernstein’s teaching by composers who inspired him. Two classrooms featured original compositions by students. one of them, “The Beach,” was set to a video filmed over the course of a day at the shore. Another, “Celia Thaxter’s Garden, Isle of Shoals, Maine,” took its name from an impressionist painting which was on display while listeners heard the composition. In the lobby of the hall, large speakers played back snippets of conversation recorded on microphones as people milled about the space — as if we were all in conversation with the hall itself. One exhibit featured a brand new instrument built out of a steel block and piano strings, tuned to the resonant frequency of the block, which allowed its tones to eerily change over time.
Some pieces elicited a much stronger reaction in me than others. “Lullaby for the Earth,” featuring the motion-sensitive Moon Ball, was incredibly moving to me, and reminded me of a Plasma Ball, but with music shooting out of it instead of light. Other works, like the steel box and the track accompanying the painting, left me wanting more of an explanation; I wished the artists could have been nearby to discuss their works. Overall, I suggest members of the Brandeis community spend time with these kinds of exhibits to learn about the diversity of talent among the Music Department’s students.