Music in forms

Chitra Kalyani
4 Min Read

Tucked away on the second floor of the Egyptian Museum of Modern Art is a structure that does not look like much. It has two surfaces, one flat on the ground and the other against a wall with metal slots in and out of which metal sheets pass through. A low vibrant sound fills the room.

“Musica in Forma: Study No. 3 on Adaptive Volumes is a musical and plastic art installation that aims to bring together the fields of music, visual art, and science. Audiences can interact with the installation by shifting the metal sheets around, thereby changing the vibrations they produce.

“It is not just sound, artistic curator Laura Bianchini told Daily News Egypt, “it is music; it is organized sound.

The joint work of composer Michelangelo Lupone and visual artist Licia Galizia, the installation employs Planephone technology developed at the Centro Richerche Musicali.

Planephones are vibrating systems made of wood, copper, or iron panels that diffuse sound depending on the materials, design, and alignment of the surfaces on the plastic volumes.

The brainchild of composer Lupone, Planephones were originally also presented as art installations following a series of studies on the vibrational qualities of materials. They are different from conventional sound systems because they acquire the timbral sound of the materials of which they are made, and diffuse sound homogenously across surfaces.

The first version of “Music in Forms was presented by the Italian Institute of Culture in Belgrade in 2008.

The Study No. 3 on Adaptive Volumes consists of Planephones in wood, Tecu copper, iron, and aeronautic aluminum. Bianchini explained that the music was produced from the vibration of the metal and its friction against the wood.

In a corner of the structure are slippers that interacting audience members wear in order not to dirty the white installation. Even the sounds of shuffling feet would resonate in the installation, said Bianchini.

The mobile metal parts are changed by the visitor so that many musical and material forms are produced by the same structure.

When left undisturbed, the installation nevertheless picks up cues from the surrounding environment and goes through an intrinsic change and produces different sounds. Consequently the music is unceasing, taking on a slow and constant tone when undisturbed, but rapid and polyphonic when undergoing a variation.

To enter the Planephone is to enter an orbit of buzzing sound. It is intriguing that there is no external source of sound, except for the materials used in the Planephone. More intriguing than listening to the produced effect is to observe visitors interact with the installation.

Manipulating the metal sheets entails removing them from their slots and sliding them into new slots and positions against the wall and floor. The sliding and scratching produces a series of humming vibrations that translates in a post-modern dictionary as music.

“Musica in Forma will be on display at the Egyptian Museum of Modern Art at the Cairo Opera House till February 8.

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