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Dancing Waves of Sound

»MYRINX«, the video installation at the main entrance of the Elbphilharmonie, turns sounds into art.

What would the Elbphilharmonie hear if it was a living creature?

Till Nowak

One of the most fascinating parts of the human body is the eardrum: it’s about half the size of a 1 cent coin, but indispensable for the power of hearing. All the sounds that reach the ear in the form of sound waves are translated into mechanical vibrations by the eardrum. Only after this crucial conversion can the ear process the information and pass it on to the brain, which recognises the notes and melodies contained therein.

Media artist Till Nowak depicts what goes on in the auditory canal, on a miniature scale and hidden from view, on the big LED display, measuring 18 x 5 metres, at the entrance of the Elbphilharmonie. In his new installation MYRINX (the Latin word for eardrum), the facade at the main entrance becomes the building’s visual ear. »What would the Elbphilharmonie hear if it was a living creature?«, Nowak asks himself – and supplies the answer in the form of digital animations.

Till Nowak
Till Nowak © Claus Friede

Together with sound engineer Martin Gerigk, Nowak recorded all kinds of sounds that can be heard in and around the Elbphilharmonie: the vibrations and noise produced by ships’ propellors at the base of the building, the sound of water rushing through pipes, the coffee machine in the restaurant, the wind whistling through open windows, the hum of the escalator, the sound of applause in the Grand Hall.

Martin Gerigk und Till Nowak bei der Arbeit
Martin Gerigk und Till Nowak bei der Arbeit © Claus Friede

ABOUT THE ARTIST

Till Nowak (b. 1980) lives in Los Angeles, where he works as a freelance artist and for major film studios. His works have been shown at film festivals all over the world and have been awarded many prizes. His art is represented at exhibitions and in books. Before he moved to Los Angeles in 2015, the digital artist, light artist and film-maker lived for many years in Hamburg.

MYRINX is the latest work in a series of installations in which Till Nowak produces an artistic interpretation of physical phenomena. «Kelvin«, a projection on the historic water tower in Neumünster, shows the outside temperature on the facade in colour. With »Aura« in Hamburg’s HafenCity, the movement of passers-by influences the appearance of the installation.

Nowak then converted these recordings in several digital processes into visual images. The first step in this process was the so-called spectrum frequency analysis, which enables sounds to be represented in colour. The different pitches and volumes shine in different degrees of brightness in a kind of two-dimensional tapestry of sound.

The artist then subjected these sound pictures to further processing. Using the so-called displacement technique, he converted the graphic images into three dimensions: the brighter a pixel in the picture, the stronger the three-dimensional displacement. Thus a bright stripe turned into an elongated elevation, and a coloured tapestry of sound became a hilly landscape of organic appearance, where the different frequencies are shown as mountains and valleys.

Zur Vorstellung seiner neuen Installation war Till Nowak aus Los Angeles zugeschaltet
Zur Vorstellung seiner neuen Installation war Till Nowak aus Los Angeles zugeschaltet © Michael Zapf

In the final step, he brought the 3D images to life in individual animations. The original sound pattern forms the basis for the animations and is still recognisable, but at the same time Till Nowak emphases the artistic freedom involved in the realisation: »The project combines a scientific with an artistic approach. The boundary between the measurement process and its artistic interpretation is fluid.« Nowak chose a metallic structure similar to chrome-plating for the surface of the shapes, in reference to materials also used in the building by the architects of the Elbphilharmonie, Herzog & de Meuron.

Myrinx / Till Nowak

SHOWING AT THE ELBPHILHARMONIE ENTRANCE FROM 1–31 MARCH

The animated hilly landscapes on the big LED display have captions in both German and English so that visitors and passers-by know what they’re looking at, for example, »Escalator ride through the Elbphilharmonie« or »Wind about the Elbphilharmonie facade«.

»The aim of the installation is to present an urban ear«, says Nowak. »It reflects what’s going on in and around the Elbphilharmonie, changing our perception of the place and directing people’s awareness to their own hearing process – everything is in vibration.«

MYRINX consists of a 14-minute cycle running in a loop, and can be seen at the main entrance of the Elbphilharmonie from 1 – 31 March.

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