The Sound of . . .

October 17, 2008

Last weekend I was in New York for the closing of Olafur Eliasson's NYC Waterfalls. I never got to see The Gates, and I swore I wouldn't miss seeing this installation in person.

With my anticipation for what I was about to see building, I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and caught my first glimpse. As soon as I saw them, the first word that popped in my head was "majestic." They were truly a spectacle, with the juxtaposition of their massive size and their light and airy appearance.

As I stood beneath the bridge, taking in the waterfall, I looked around for my fellow revelers, expecting to be surrounded by people just like me, astounded by this massive structure. That wasn't the case; the audience was strangely blasé. Street performers and wedding parties seemed to be receiving more attention than the 120-foot waterfall next to me. I was struck with the question, have we become numb to public art? Perhaps these people had already seen the waterfalls hundreds of times and their sense of awe had passed, the artwork becoming just another sight and sound of the city.

Unframed contributor Scott Tennent pointed me to this article from the Observer, published last year, about a group of researchers investigating what sounds might make a city environment more pleasant. Among others, they found "car tyres on wet, bumpy asphalt, the distant roar of a motorway flyover, the rumble of an overground train and the thud of heavy bass heard on the street outside a nightclub" were all pleasing to the ear. They also found that "In the laboratory, many listeners prefer distant motorway noise to rushing water, until they are told what the sounds are."

Maybe all those waterfalls were just stressing the locals out. Lucky for them, the waterfalls are gone now.

Rachel Mullennix
Marketing Manager