Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

  • I frequently recommend the Cooper Hewitt across age groups. In addition to the Designing with Sound exhibit during my October visit, I saw an excellent exhibit on Design in the Digital Age, and an interesting Virtue in Vice exhibit with objects categorized across the seven deadly sins.
  • My previous visit to the Cooper Hewitt led to writing about Pixar.

Notes on Max Neuhaus, Times Square

  • Considering the foot traffic through Times Square, this is probably the most visited art installation in America. It just so happens the vast majority of visitors don’t realize they’ve visited. Neuhaus said, “I want at least fifty percent of the people to be able to walk through it without noticing, without hearing it.” By my observation across at least five visits, it goes 99% unnoticed.
  • Neuhaus’s description of Times Square at the time is great: “It includes large billboards, moving neon signs, office buildings, hotels, theaters, porno centers and electronic game emporiums. Its population is equally diverse, including tourists, theatregoers, commuters, pimps, shoppers, hucksters and office workers.”

Notes on Aki Onda and Akio Suzuki, Sound Artists

  • It seems strange to “happen” upon a performance in West Texas, but such is the case. I had traveled from New York to Marfa, Texas to revisit Chinati and the Judd Foundation.
  • Onda and Suzuki both seem like interesting characters. Onda is more quotable for me, partly because Onda is fluent in English, whereas Suzuki relies on a translator.
  • “You know, sound is everywhere. There is no silence in our daily life.” -Aki Onda
  • “I love mistakes. They often open a door which I hadn’t noticed before.” -Aki Onda
  • “Our life is basically unpredictable. We don’t know what’s happening in the future, and we are learning how to cope with that unknown future all throughout our life. It’s exciting, but somehow it’s painful as well. Everything is transitory in this world. Memories lose their significance, but their essence remains. We use them in our daily life. And we need them for making music.” -Aki Onda
  • Onda’s lengthier comments about soundscape are really interesting. I’ll never look at candles the same: “I always imagine the space. Some musicians, when they play, they imagine the notes, but I’m the opposite, I imagine the soundscape. For a Cassette Memories performance, I burn numerous beeswax candles in the performing space. The light and scent of candles set the atmosphere of the performance. It’s also a symbol of remembrance, as people have been using candles for centuries. Candles have a practical purpose – they change and improve the acoustics since they make a certain airflow in the space. If I place candles around the centre of the floor, the air goes up to the ceiling directly and runs down along the walls, making a dome-shaped airflow. Then, if I send my sound from vintage amps to the candle area, the sound follows the airflow and creates very spacious acoustics. Listeners sometimes don’t realise where the sound source is. Or if they stand by the walls, they feel like the sound is falling down from above them.”
  • Onda’s life philosophy: “I just want to rewrite rules.”

Integrated Design

  • “If you take sound away from an experience, and you don’t miss it, then it shouldn’t have been there in the first place.” -Joel Beckerman, Composer and Sound Designer
  • In the 1981 Letterman interview, Mel Blanc also describes the effort required to do full animation: “To make a 6.5 minute cartoon in full animation took 125 people 9 months to make 1 single fully animated cartoon. And even then it cost around $50,000. Today it would cost around half a million.” Remember this is before computer-generated imagery.
  • Referring to drawing animation after the voice is recorded, Blanc states this neatly: “They draw to the voice.”
  • Referring to music (over)use in movies, film editor and sound designer Walter Murch said, “Most movies use music the way athletes use steroids.”
  • I avoided any direct discussion on noise pollution. It seems an obvious corollary topic, and it would be hard to overemphasize the concern in urban American environments.
  • Related to noise and acoustic design, I recall one California town deploying recorded bird songs to reduce crime, a concept that may in fact be supported by research on pleasant soundscapes.