Saturday, January 14, 2006

Forget Dolby 7.1, Try 40-Channel Surround Sound

Many of my Bessemer colleagues went to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month. I had attended it in each of the last several years but decided to skip this one. I was slightly disappointed with the small number of new things I saw in 2005 relative to 2004, so I decided to make it an every-other-year event.

Little did I know, my trip to the Museum of Modern Art last week turned out to be a decent substitute for CES. I didn't intend to get an electronics junkie's fix from MOMA, so I was surprised to find two exhibits that conjured up images of CES.

The first exhibit celebrated Pixar's 20 years as an animation studio. It was admittedly annoying to dodge the gaggles of 9-year olds. Half of the parents in New York City decided the Pixar exhibit was a good excuse to schlep their families to the museum. Fortunately, 9-year olds are too short to block the view, so the exhibit was still excellent. I left with a better appreciation for how critical are the talented human artists behind the animation. Computers make it all possible, but the creativity and vision still come from people, not from machines.

Even more impressive than the Pixar stuff was an installation by Janet Cardiff. I wandered into a room devoid of everything but two benches surrounded by 40 speakers configured in a large oval. (Thanks, Washington Post, for the photo.)

Cardiff recorded a 40-person chorus and replicated the sound by channeling each voice through one of the 40 speakers. It was among the most interesting aural experiences I've ever had. You could walk through the room, stopping in front of an individual speaker, and it was as if you were standing nose-to-nose with one member of the chorus. Or you could just sit on the couch in the middle and take it all in. The Washington Post's Blake Gopnik does a fine job describing the piece here, but it is definitely something that needs to be experienced in person, not in print.

2 comments:

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Jeremy said...

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