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To a Great City by Arvo Pärt and Snøhetta

To a Great City by Arvo Pärt and Snøhetta 9/25/2011

For the second edition of stillspotting nyc, composer Arvo Pärt (b. 1935, Paide, Estonia) and the New York City and Oslo-based architectural firm Snøhetta collaborate on a series of stillspots around Lower Manhattan that explore the special relationship between space and sound. Pärt’s concept of tintinnabuli (“little bells” in Latin), which forms the basis of most of his work, was born from a deeply rooted desire for a reduced realm of sound that could not be measured, as it were, in kilometers or even meters but only in millimeters. In our busy everyday lives in cities such as New York, we often don’t realize how our ears continually need time to adjust to strong differences in the sounds that surround us—just as the pupils of the eyes only gradually accommodate to the change from light to dark. Pärt believes that our mind and senses do register these differences unconsciously. Oftentimes the mysterious phenomenon of sensory adaptation is best observed through reduction rather than growing complexity. Reduction certainly doesn’t mean simplification, but it is the way—at least in an ideal scenario—to the most intense awareness of the essence of stimuli.

For To a Great City, the architects have selected—and subtly altered by the placement of large-scale weather balloons—indoor and outdoor spaces that embody the concept of a central musical tone and extend the perception of sound into the realm of space. The spherical balloons have a unifying and holistic character and simultaneously create and ignore space: something that can also be said of Pärt’s music.

The staging of five recorded works by Pärt gradually transports visitors from the hustle and bustle of the streetscape to an elevated urban experience that makes them newly aware of their sense of hearing. Visitors can experience this confluence of music and architecture at five separate locations downtown that quietly celebrate the city, ten years after the September 11 attacks. Traveling through sites along the periphery of Ground Zero, participants encounter a green labyrinth created by the Battery Conservancy, reflect in an underground chamber at Governors Island National Monument, and enter otherwise inaccessible spaces in landmark skyscrapers. The stillness and seclusion of these spaces heightens awareness and recalibrates the senses. Over the course of a day, participants may visit each space multiple times at their leisure to understand how their perception changes based on circumstances such as time, stress, appetite, and sleep. Listeners become increasingly sensitized as they are drawn in and ideally are transformed to a focused and tranquil state.

The Guggenheim Museum acknowledges these community partners and collaborators for their special support on the Manhattan edition of stillspotting nyc:

The Battery Conservancy
Capalino + Company
Mayor’s Office of Citywide Coordination
National Park Service, Governors Island
Silverstein Properties
The Trust for Governors Island
The Witkoff Group