Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Trip to the 'Voice Tunnel'

I like to drag the kids to the city's many outdoor art installations, and usually we don't encounter heavy crowds (because, hey, only so many people want to see Christopher Columbus in a fake living room).

When I heard they were opening up the Park Avenue Tunnel to pedestrians this month to create an exhibit of light and sound, I figured it'd be a similar situation. Who wants to spend their weekend inside a dank tunnel in August?

Turns out, a lot of people. We arrived this morning at the tunnel's entrance at Park Avenue and 33rd Street and saw a long line of visitors snaking around the block. It didn't help that they made everyone sign a waiver (I didn't read the document, but I assume walking through a 179-year-old underground passage presents some risks).

The 1,400-foot-long tunnel was outfitted with 300 spotlights by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, a Mexican-Canadian artist (it's a NAFTA lovefest!) who called the work "Voice Tunnel."

From the website of Summer Streets, which sponsored the installation:
Participants will be able to influence the intensity of each light by speaking into a special intercom at the tunnel’s center which records their voice and loops it. Louder speech will increase the lights’ brightness proportionally, creating a Morse-like code of flashes throughout the tunnel. The individual voices will be heard as pedestrians walk through the tunnel, on 150 loudspeakers, one beside each light arch and synchronized with it. 
At any given time, the tunnel will be illuminated by the voices of the past 90 participants: as new participants speak into the intercom, older recordings will get pushed away by one position down the array of light fixtures until they leave the tunnel, so that the content of the piece is changing constantly.
I created a video of our experience, which gives you a sense of the lights if not the sounds.


 There was a place within the tunnel to add your voice to the mix, but the line for that was very long. (After waiting to get in, we weren't up for another queue.)

At first, Elliot seemed disappointed that he couldn't record his voice. Then we remembered he has no difficulty being loud on his own. No amplification required!