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Behind the Exhibit: Sonic Arcade

A multisensory exhibit at the Museum of Arts and Design breaks all the rules

Conventional museum etiquette says be quiet and please don’t touch the art. But a new show at the Museum of Arts and Design is throwing out the rulebook. After soft-opening this week, “Sonic Arcade: Shaping Space with Sound” will go full-volume on September 13, filling three floors with sound-based artwork – much of which is interactive and playable by visitors. With everything from wearable instruments to giant guitars, this multisensory exhibit is experimental art meets experimental music.

The name “Sonic Arcade” befits the exhibit’s conceptual yet playful aesthetics. Taking up much of the third floor is Israeli artist Naama Tsabar’s “Propagation (Opus 3),” a monumental instrument made from wood, piano strings and bone that, according to Chief Curator Shannon Stratton, turns the entire museum into a kind of acoustic stringed instrument. “The amplified sound goes back into the building, so it makes the building itself a resonant body,” says Stratton.


Propagation (Opus 3), 2015 by Naama Tsabar

Besides the stellar acoustics, the museum is a fitting venue for this technical form. Formerly known as “The Museum of Contemporary Crafts,” the space, located in Columbus Circle, showcases all kinds of handiwork – from fashion to jewelry to handbags. “We often try to think about how we can extend people’s ideas about what craft is,” says Stratton. “Some people think it means grandma’s doilies, but we think craft is about process and a maker’s relationship to a kind of virtuosity with their materials.”

Birdprint, 2014 by Foo/Skou

Upholding the museum’s commitment to mixed media is the musical jewelry by Amsterdam-based collaborative Arjen Noordeman and Christie Wright. While they were inspired by the acoustic quality of clay, Noordeman and Wright used 3D printing technology to create their “Audiowear” series of instruments including a pan flute, whistle necklace and xylophone bracelet, which they then recorded musicians playing.

5 Whistle Necklace, 2010 by Arjen Noordeman and Christie Wright

Elsewhere in the exhibit, your own iPhone can become a high-concept noisemaker. For their piece “Format 3” Danish artists Foo/Skou created a downloadable app that allows your phone to turn graphics into various sounds. The synesthetic piece illustrates the museum’s larger mission to move away from traditional arts and crafts to other, less tangible forms of craftsmanship. “Certainly there are still people who just go to the studio and make a watercolor painting,” says Stratton. “But there is also an art to engineering. [This exhibit] is a demonstration of the hybridity of people’s practices right now.”