Normally we'd be skeptical about a pop-up venue by a wireless speaker company, but seeing as Sonos was hosting the likes of John Maeda, The Principals, and New Yorker music critic Sasha Frere-Jones—to say nothing of the musical artists—at Neuehouse this week, we'll give them the benefit of the doubt. Billed as a "weeklong exploration of the intersection of music, art and technology," the Sonos Studio includes several multimedia pieces and performances especially commissioned for the pop-up at the event space, including a collaboration between The Principals and Devonté Hynes, a.k.a. Blood Orange. The design studio and musician recently unveiled "Ancient Chaos," a site-specific installation at the venue in Lower Manhattan: a series of articulating, ceiling-mounted panels (made of mylar 'scales') that is complemented by an 11-minute composition by Hynes.
Given an open brief to collaborate, Drew Seskunas of the Principals noted that their introductory meeting two months ago was "really wonderful, kind of abstract... we kept it loose." You wouldn't know it by looking or listening, but Hynes was reportedly inspired by none other than J.S. Bach, specifically a book called The Cello Suites by Eric Siblin; The Principals, for their part, took the opportunity to reimagine the "Cosmic Quilt," which they originally exhibited at NY Design Week 2012. "It was a system that had a lot of potential but wasn't fully realized in the first iteration of it." Where the original piece responded to movement—i.e. differences in light and shadow—the new one responds to the physical sound wave of the music.
Devonté Hynes performing "Ancient Chaos"
Seskunas and his fellow 'Principals' Christopher Williams and Charles Constantine were excited to have the opportunity not only to work out the technical details of the interactive piece but also to "rethink those aspects, working specifically with music and having music composed for it." Indeed, "Ancient Chaos" marks their first collaboration, and Seskunas acknowledges a bit of a learning curve. "Initially, Dev was going to compose a piece and we were going to design an installation and the two were going to go together..." But when they learned that he was going to perform the piece, they decided to go all in. "We're not necessarily prepared to deal with improvisation, but it just seemed logical, like a wonderful chance to take. As far as an immersive, interactive experience, [the performance] was the apotheosis of anything we've done so far."
Of course, this could well be a mere first step—a kind of proof-of-concept—for further collaborations, and Seskunas muses about the potential of the responsive installation, which is currently calibrated for Hynes' composition. "In some ways, we feel that [pairing it with another composition] would compromise the integrity of the work," he relates, ambivalent about the constraints of what was developed as a one-off collaboration. "We decided collectively that we'd only let the piece respond to Dev's music, either when he's performing or the piece is performing. Maybe in sound check [tonight, with Richard Reed Parry] we'll hook the two up and see how it goes."
Seated, from left: Sasha Frere-Jones, Devonté Hynes, Drew Seskunas, Christopher Williams and Charles Constantine
"Ancient Chaos" will be on view at Sonos Studio at Neuehouse, 110 E 25th St, through Sunday, October 5.