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Creating the Immersive Sound Chamber of MoMa's Björk Show

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MoMa's much talked about new Björk retrospective at New York's Museum of Modern Art will open to the public on Sunday, March 8, with a wide-ranging exhibition inspired by the Icelandic performer's multi-decade career at the forefront of the musical avant-garde. One of the show's highlights is a large black acoustic chamber lined with some 6,000 felt cones and 49 loudspeakers where visitors can take in a specially commissioned music video for Björk's song "Black Lake." The chamber is an incredibly elaborate piece of architecture: "Every inch of the room corresponds to one second of the song," says designer David Benjamin, who created the installation with his firm, the Living. "It's a three-dimensional mapping of the song on the walls and ceiling."
Benjamin's firm used audio software to analyze the song, mapping out the different octaves, decibels, and frequencies to guide the width, height, and openness of the "barnacle shapes" covering the acoustic chamber. Working with a team of over 30 people (and listening to "Black Lake" hundreds of times), the firm was able to transfer the peaks of the song onto the physical contours of the room. The biggest cone measures 18 inches tall, and the smallest one is three inches.


"One of the things that was really cool about it for us was how the arrangement of the cones and the material deadened the sound so much," says Benjamin. "This was one of the ideas of the design all along, and it helped inform the selection of the material, but it was really so, so dead in there that this slightly unexpected thing happened. When you stand alone in the room, you can almost hear your heart beating—which seems entirely fitting."

The look of the room was inspired as much by the technical data as by the emotional experience and atmosphere of the song "Black Lake." More than 40 different versions of the room were created before the team settled upon a final design. Björk was closely involved throughout the process. "I found Bjork to be incredibly collaborative, generous, inspiring, and really fun to work with," says Benjamin. "She was very open to different ideas and approaches, but also very clear about her vision and what she wanted, and what was best for this experience."

· Björk at the Museum of Modern Art [official site]
· The Overlooked Architecture of Björk's Retrospective [Architectural Record]
· All Installations posts [Curbed National]