“We are staking out new opportunities for people to engage in a moment or a place.”– Jason Renier, sound artist
Sound can have an incredibly powerful impact on your experience of a time or place. What can you hear around you right now? How does it make you feel? Had you even noticed those sounds…?
What you can hear is just as essential to the multisensory experiences we create at Art Processors as what you can see. We have worked with the Portland Museum of Art, Art Gallery of New South Wales and Melbourne Zoo among others to use sound to create brand new ways to engage visitors.
Sound artist Jason Reinier knows the power that immersive sound experiences can have in moving visitors to be more present in the moment. His latest work with Art Processors has created a unique blend of sculpture and sound for The Venetian in Las Vegas, providing a magical experience for visitors hidden amongst the hotel and casino’s shopping mall.
Jason has delivered immersive experiences for museums all over the world through his production company Earprint, including the Exploratorium, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, the British Museum, the Oakland Museum of California, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Peabody Essex Museum.
The Wishing Tree
Brookfield Properties were embarking on a refresh of the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian with the aim of creating attractive and meaningful spaces for their visitors.
The Wishing Tree is a new sculpture that brings to life a previously empty atrium at the heart of the retail space. It is a captivating sight—14 feet tall and reminiscent of a twisting olive tree. The boughs stretch 28 feet across the central gallery covered in 3500 gold plate leaves and with tiny glass birds perched among its winding branches.
Jason says it is a beautiful and stunning visual representation of what The Venetian represents but it was also a very open-ended idea. He could see an opportunity to enhance the sculpture.
Jason was interested in creating a world of sound for The Wishing Tree. His proposal was to create a soundscape composed of natural sounds designed on a 24 hour cycle with subtle shifting changes as the hours passed.
“Imagine this tree sits at the edge of a forest,” he says. “Beyond the forest is a meadow through which a small river meanders. You are visually drawn to it at the centre of this space you can glimpse down the shopping mall’s long hallways. And then you hear it—an oasis of sound and light and suddenly you are in this immersive space.”
There are unique soundscapes for each time period in the day: sunrise, morning, mid day, afternoon, sunset, evening and nighttime.
During each hour there is a special sound event that encourages visitors in the mall to gather near the tree. The five-minute event features a collection of sounds—birds chorus in the tree, animals gather at its base, weather systems roll past.
“We also created imaginary sound effects of the gold leaves quaking in the wind and the glass birds chorusing. You start to hear chimes and it lifts you out of where you were and brings your attention into the experience. The chimes rise and grow into a crescendo.
“The aim was to bring visitors into the world of materiality and notice this isn’t a natural tree, but a sculpture of bronze.”
Creating a day of sound
The Wishing Tree and the round gallery where it stands offers visitors the chance for a small space of calm and respite from the chaotic sounds of the rest of the mall.
When Jason first visited The Venetian he found the overall effect was exhausting. “It was a challenging soundspace, due to the competing sounds and the reflective qualities of the [glass and marble] materials of the space.”
Walking through the various neighborhoods of the mall, fashioned like the canals in Venice, visitors are confronted with a multitude of sounds reflected off the glass and marble surfaces.
“There is music that rises and falls as you move through the different spaces mingling with sounds coming from each shopfront and the singing of the boat crews taking visitors up and down the canals. The crowds add their own noise creating a disorganized cacophony that grows throughout the day as more and more visitors pile into the mall.”
The sculpture is installed in a central gallery at the meeting of four separate hallways. Jason saw that this could allow the tree to be sonically isolated from the competing noise making it possible to create a more subtle soundscape for the tree and give shoppers a place to escape the chaos.
“The tree has its own soundscape and lighting. We installed a sound system to deliver eight channels of audio to the base of the tree, while the mall sound system delivers sound to the hallways and the main vestibule surrounding the Tree. The total space from the four entry halls to the central atrium is filled with the unique soundscape created for the Tree Sculpture.”
Working with Doug Quin
It took 12 different companies to bring the Tree to life, including the designer Squarepeg and builder Gizmo Art Production, lighting designers and Jason’s long-time collaborator, Doug Quin.
“The original idea for the Tree soundscape was to work with sounds from all over the world. I knew that Doug had recorded all over the world so brought him into the collaboration as soundscape architect,” Jason says.
Doug is an internationally acclaimed composer, sound artist and designer, wildlife recordist, public radio commentator and educator. He and Jason have worked together on numerous projects over 25 years, including concerts and workshops at the Exploratorium, sound design for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, and creating soundscapes for the Albuquerque Zoo’s new Penguin Chill exhibit.
The two artists also share a passion for exploring and celebrating the natural world through an acoustic lense.
“This matters more now than ever from an environmental stand point,” says Jason. “Opportunities like this that speak to retail and commercial spaces can help engage people, connect them through illusion and art to the natural world.”
“If you can appeal to the heart then you have a shot at opening curiosity,” says Doug, whose work is featured in a new soundscapes app.
“That is not to downplay the role of protest or journalistic grappling with these issues, but there is something from the arts that can be a gentler and more powerful way of driving the conversation,” says Doug.
Sound design for different spaces
Jason describes an immersive experience as one that lifts you up and grounds you at the same time.
“An immersive experience allows you to connect with a moment and have a deeper, more meaningful and cognitive experience with an object or place.
“The qualities of what we are doing in immersive design are becoming more able to be addressed by different types of spaces.”
Traditionally, integrating sound as part of a visitor experience has been the domain of galleries, museums and other places focused around cultural practice or education. Increasingly though, other types of spaces—for study, worship, entertainment, commercial retail—are seeing the value in paying attention to all senses, not just what visitors can see.
“What’s happening is the sense that all the places we exist in are starting to share the same needs of immersive design,” says Jason. “Most buildings don’t start out with the intention to have an acoustic signature, but now all buildings are starting to pay attention to this and how design can affect a soundscape.
“The Venetian wanted to refresh and activate their space. They had a very disorganised chaotic space and now they have a very beautiful designed space that allows people to rest, recuperate and move on.”
Working with large-scale commercial clients like a casino might seem at odds with Jason and Doug’s personal commitment to raising conversations around our natural environment, but the collaborators agree that every project provides an opportunity to connect with people and have an impact.
“In taking on commercial ventures I look at whether I have an opportunity to reach someone and have an impact—to engage people and hopefully spark curiosity,” says Doug. “It might be tiny moments that lead to a conversation or connection.
“I don’t expect people to come out of the experience and say ‘My life was transformed by acoustic ecology!’ The joy I get in an immersive experience is when they interact with each other and hopefully they can share in a brief moment.”
Jason agrees and feels that immersive sound can go a step further and assist with people’s wellbeing. “The sounds of urban life can be very difficult over time. Can we begin to shape what is healthy and promotes wellbeing in any space through sound? I really admire Brookfield properties for what they are doing. Their effort and energy and willingness to do this. In The Wishing Tree we have created an oasis with a little bit of whimsy.”