Soundings: A Contemporary Score just opened at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. Featuring the work of 16 international artists, the show is described as “a communal exploration of how and what we hear, and what we might make of it.” Known for its cutting edge exhibits, surprisingly this is MoMA’s first group exhibition to highlight sound as a form of art. For any advocate of new ways to think about what we too often do by rote, unexpected collaborations, or just plain fun, the show, or at minimum, the online concept, is a must-hear. I, for one, will never look at sound the same way again.
From the moment you enter the exhibit, your senses are stimulated. You pass Sergei Tcherepnin’s Motor-Matter Bench, a well-worn wooden subway seat transformed into an audio speaker that sends sound pulsating through your body. Next comes Tristan Perich’s 25-foot long wall made up of 1500 one-bit speakers, tuned to create a continuum of pitch that changes as you walk along the corridor. Nearly a dozen other works are displayed throughout the exhibition area, ranging from drawings of sound created by a deaf artist (Scores and Transcripts by Christine Sun Kim) to Wellenwane Ifo, by Carsten Niccolai, which combines light and sound to feature sound waves rippling through water, to Haroon Mirza’s Frame for A Painting, which surrounds a familiar Mondrian work with LED lights and a synced soundtrack in a room containing a modernist Danish table. All make you stop, look, and listen in new dimensions.
These innovative mashups underscored for me the aggressive push for creativity, but also a subtle pull for familiarity. We like to process what’s new from the vantage point of what we know. A subway seat, a ripple of water, a famous painting were all stimuli for “seeing” sound.
A recent study on the way we listen to music from Washington University in St. Louis’ Olin Business School shows that although most people say they prefer to listen to unfamiliar music, they actually like what they already know best. The trick (in marketing, which was the focus of this study), as well as in life, is to put a twist on the familiar. To make a better mousetrap, rather than reinvent the wheel. Think of America’s Got Talent. The winners aren’t doing new things; they’re doing them in ways that make them newly spectacular. Likewise, when we look at new media and toys. The winners of the 2013 National STEM Video Game Challenge created innovative games drawing on the proven mechanics of Mario, the heart of Oliver Twist, the brilliance of Star Wars, and the knowledge of a dictionary.
Innovation drives our business. What’s new gets the buzz, and more importantly, the sales. When I begin any project, I always start from the vantage point of what I know works. I look at the pattern and then I overlay it with a plaid, stripes…or technology. Likewise, when we plan each Sandbox Summit, we begin with the trends, and then we take an uber-view, a left angle, and a fisheye. Suddenly, we gain a new perspective on a subject we thought we had down pat. Like so many great innovations, MoMA’s Soundings was a welcoming tweak, rather than a forceful tug.
If you’ve seen (or heard) any innovative collaborations lately, tell me about them at firstname.lastname@example.org.