Museum exhibit makes environmental music

A small nook on the second floor of the museum is home to a vibrant light and music spectacular that can never be experienced exactly the same way twice. Tucked inside the Rose Berry Alaska Art Gallery, “The Place Where You go to Listen” displays an array of colors and lights that change with every passing second.

Roger Topp, Head of Exhibits at The Museum of The North, discussed his insight of the exhibit’s many features and recent upgrades, which took place over last semester and into the summer.

“So what you have in there, is you have 14 different loudspeakers in the floor and on the ceiling, so it’s sort of surround sound on steroids, playing back a live composition,” Topp said.

The music in the room is composed from data collected from natural events, including the activity of the Northern Lights in the atmosphere, where it is then mixed with programmed music.

“So, earthquakes that are happening in the state right now, and we have an earthquake happening every 15 minutes somewhere in the state, the condition of earth’s magnetic field on the aurora borealis, that’s coming in as live data,” Topp explained, “and that is mixed with stuff that can be pre-programmed like the time of day, the season, how much daylight, how much atmospheric fog we have, all of that is blended into a composition.”

The stereo set up inside of the exhibit allows for different instruments to sound from different portions of the room, culminating in a full musical score.

“Each of those different characters has an audio character in the room, so the deeper sounds are going to be earthquakes and drum sounds, the ceiling is where you’re going to hear the aurora borealis, so it’s all mixed and generated in real time,” Topp said. “It’s changing every second, but you need to listen carefully.”

In addition to the continuous stream of music, the room also features a wide array of colors that dance across a wall of light panels.

“There are two different light tracks there, one is referred to as the day and one is the night. During the course of the day they change in color…and those colors also change with the season, so the room has an entirely different quality during the summer equinox than the winter equinox.” explains Roger.

“The Place Where You Go To Listen” first opened its exhibit doors at The Museum of The North in 2006 when the museum extended its premises to include a new wing. Beginning in September 2016 and continuing into last semester, the museum was revamping the exhibit, adding an electronic display and information panel outside the exhibit, an aesthetic upgrade to the front door, with further upgrades to the computer system that generates the live data feed and musical compilation.

“The new computers can be worked on remotely. In layman’s terms, it sounds a lot richer than it used to,” Topp said, regarding the renovations to the exhibit. “It’s more accessible.”

The spectacular light and music experience that the exhibit provides was the brainchild of Alaska native and Pulitzer Prize winning composer, John Luther Adams. Adams inspired the creation of “The Place Where You Go To Listen” from its inception in 2006, and has seen it through to its most recent upgrade.

“The Place Where You Go To Listen” is open Monday-Saturday from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. during normal Museum hours of operation. Students receive free admission to the museum with a valid student ID.

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