PSFK interviews composer/producer Ariel Blumenthal to uncover how dance, architecture, technology can converge in a unique experience.
Ariel Blumenthal is an innovative composer and producer. Not only does he work with world class musicians, but he composes 3D sound scores; these Sonic Brand Experiences are unique to the site where they are performed and are then licensed off to the venue where they debuted or to the company that paid for the work.
They are 3D in the sense that they are impossible to replicate through stereo alone. This is because the sound is determined by the relationship of the audience member to the technology embedded into the interior space of the building.
As founding director of Sentient Music for Media, he treats music as an immersive multi-dimensional element in conversation with architectural space and human bodies and has articulated his craft both artistically and commercially. We caught up with Ariel to talk about his innovative installations.
What have you been working on recently?
I am working on a handful of commercial and art projects. Some of my assignments include an extended project for Fox International Channel (FIC) and National Geographic Channel International (NGCI) fulfilling a new model of music use in international broadcast networks. We hired some 50 composers worldwide to contribute to the production. I also have a concerto for violin and mandolin written for violinist Ittai Shapira and Mandolin player Avi Avital in partnership with the Daniel Pearl Foundation. Most recently, I’ve worked on an experimental visual-audio collaboration with artist Yael Kanarek and the upcoming show H2Eau.
How did you end up working in the intersection of music, technology, and architecture?
I stumbled upon this uncharted territory while working on a project for the Plaza Hotel in NY. The client wanted to have their own original Plaza Hotel music. I was searching for a more concrete understanding of what the purpose is and what the project is about beyond ownership of music, and as we were nearing beginning of production, I discovered that the hotel had purchased a phenomenal audio system from Meyer Sound in Northern California, which allows independent access to each speaker in the system.
From that moment on, it was clear that the project would be centered on a one-of-a-kind, location-based installation — and everything stemmed from there. The project ended up including two separate installations, and 3.5 hours of original music.
Tell us about your most recent show H2Eau and how it evolved?
Paula Present, artistic director of PTERO Dance Theatre, is a dear friend and a frequent collaborator. For this show, Paula was looking for someone to play on wine glasses, consistent with the show’s subject matter: water. That got us thinking about a water piano: a custom-built, 24 glasses (2 octaves) instrument on which I perform live and digitally process into the space.
One of Paula’s main ideas for the show was to trash the traditional stage-audience setting and replace it with a free, open performance environment, where performers and audience members share the same floor. The idea of having the audience basically everywhere and moving around immediately triggered my ideas of a dynamic sonic experience and inspired this to become an experiment in the design of 3D sonic environments and the way music is being experienced.
With these exciting prospects in mind, the water piano piece was expanded into a 3D, live plus pre-recorded piece. In addition, we added a second piece in which the 3D score included two musical elements that were carried by the dancers using wireless speakers, fusing movement and music into a single form of expression.
What social concerns inspire the H2Eau show?
Paula’s conception of the show was inspired by an exhibition she saw at Annenberg Space for Photography called “Water: Our Thirsty World.” Seeing these images from around the world, she realized how water, taken for granted in our society, is a focus of struggle and challenge in poor countries. The very availability of water — our most basic need — is not a clear fact of life in many parts of the world.
In African societies, females spend the better part of their days walking for miles to the nearest source of water, preventing them from getting education or contributing in any other way to the growth of the economy and society. Imagine what a fundamental transformation a local water source can have for them. This point is the focus of the non-profit Wells Bring Hope; its founder Barbara Goldberg spoke at the show.
What trends in music and the industry make you optimistic about its future?
The digital world is a magical playground. It allows creative people to reinvent what music can be. To me that means inventing new ways to experience music in an exciting frontier that goes beyond creating new music. The digital world allows music-making to be incredibly accessible, which leads inevitably to a lot of fluff out there. I expect audiences to become more sophisticated and educated by that, not the other way around. When you’re exposed to the best and the worst with abundance, you learn to improve your listening capabilities.