Cisterns can be either natural or man-made water reservoirs. Geologically, they can be visually breathtaking, but they are often phenomenal acoustic spaces as well. They house hardy species of flora and fauna, frequently including insects, bacteria, and sometimes extremophiles. These spaces, while cold and damp, can be very inviting and offer a feeling of revitalization for human visitors.
Our group was inspired by this type of space in attempting to recreate a similar feeling in the tunnel between Ferguson and Anderson Halls on the West Bank of the University of Minnesota. This tunnel is naturally very resonant and, since it is temperature controlled, very cool and slightly damp. These characteristics already give the tunnel a cave-like ambience, but the space feels very sterile and perhaps unnatural as is common with institutional utilitarian spaces. Our challenge was to alter the space in simple, non-invasive ways that would call to mind the natural elements one might experience in a cistern and subtly draw attention to the suffocating anonymity of the space as it normally is. We also wished to create an opportunity for people to interact and experiment with sound in the space. In order to accomplish these goals, we decided to focus primarily on enhancing and manipulating interactive sounds in the space, while changing the lighting through various means.
To affect the sound in the tunnel, Joey began by performing a spectral analysis of the space. He used this analysis to create a program using MAX/MSP which enhanced the natural resonance of the space. He also created a combination of water and animal-like sounds which would play periodically. Once a visitor entered the space, any noise he or she created would be picked up by a microphone and relayed back using various processes and delays. We hoped that the sound would serve two functions: 1) the tunnel would sound like a cistern when no other noise entered the space and 2) a person's realization that s/he had the ability to affect the sound in the tunnel would create an element of surprise which would hopefully encourage further experimentation.
Lighting was equally as crucial to the space as sound. We found that theatrical lighting gels covering the existing fixtures would dramatically change the feel of the tunnel. We tore various shades of blue, purple, brown, grey, and black lighting gels and layered them to create mosaic coverings which might resemble stained glass or perhaps recall natural crystal formations.
Next, Peter designed and welded cages for housing three video projectors which could be hung from the air ducts in the space. He found and distorted short videos of a stylized moving fluid and projected them onto the walls and floor of the tunnel. Julie created three light-refracting fixtures using glass prisms which we hung in front of each projector to diffuse and throw the light from the projected images in various ways.
Finally, we covered a large painted mural of the University mascot with vellum and white adhesive vinyl to minimize the potential negative affect of the mural on the atmosphere we were attempting to create.