Category: Media Art

Quiet Spheres

Quiet Spheres, an artwork by Guy Livingston, which is currently orbiting the earth

My artwork consists of two parts: a musical instrument which remains on earth, and five spheres which travel into space. The electronic musical instrument vibrates below the reach of human hearing. But as soon as the miniature spheres are placed on the surface, the sound becomes audible, and you can hear the music.

The five spheres are made of five different materials (steel, silver, pearl, howlite, lodolite). Each sphere has its own mass, color, reflectivity, and texture. Each also has its own sound when placed on the instrument. While in their transparent space gallery, they will move around in microgravity, rotating around each other, bumping into each other and into the sides of the cube. Each one influences the others, in an ever-changing artwork, a slow dance. And they make tiny sounds, which only they can hear.

The five spheres are voyaging on the International Space Station, and will stay there for the duration of the mission. Meanwhile, back on earth, I have also built a musical instrument, which ‘activates’ the spheres. Imagine a flat board with five speakers embedded in it. Each speaker is vibrating on a low frequency, too low for human ears to hear. But as soon as one of the tiny spheres is placed on its speaker, the sound is suddenly audible.

The musical instrument is called the “QSI” (for Quiet Spheres Instrument). While the spheres are traveling on the ISS, the QSI will be silent, even though it continues to vibrate at low frequency. But when the spheres are re-placed on the instrument, its vibrations will be suddenly audible. The spheres will bounce up and down on the speakers, creating a buzzing sound, and also a visual demonstration of their activity.

materials used in Quiet Spheres

The QSI project deliberately illustrates several concepts – one is my admiration for the random, never-repeated motion of the bouncing spheres; and the other is my interest in silence. Why would silence be important to our understanding of our relationship to outer space? The moon, after all, is essentially silent. But the sun is not, nor is the earth. The International Space Station itself is quite noisy. Yet space itself is silent, and I like to imagine that the QSI provides an illustration of that – when we remove the spheres from the instrument, it is like removing the atoms from a bell jar – we create a vacuum – whether scientific or artistic.

This artwork is inspired by vibrations, cycles, and the attraction and repulsion of bodies in space. The spheres themselves have a mysterious quality – they contain the possibility of making music, but only do so when placed on the instrument. The instrument plays its own eternal music. Indeed the spheres will become voyagers, not telling their story until they return to earth. Their constant bumping during the trip will ensure that they have slightly changed. Their sound will be different when they return to us.

Moon Gallery

I tried to incorporate some themes of silence and movement, quietness and activity, into my artwork. Although I have been designing artist boxes for years, this is the smallest one I ever made, at just under 1 cubic centimeter. “Quiet Spheres” is inspired by the 5 LaGrange points in outer space, which are gravitationally ‘neutral’ in relation to the earth and the sun (or the moon). My artwork is part of the Moon Gallery, which is currently orbiting the earth every 90 minutes on the International Space Station.

Performance Art

“the comic talent of a Buster Keaton” 
Het Parool, Netherlands

Installations

media art/installations

in his new series, “listen (to) the untitled 6.3”, multimedia artist Guy Livingston explores the cityscape via sound. In New York, nearly everyone is walking down the street, lost in their own sonic world – listening to their own soundtrack on their own headphones; or talking to their own family or friends.

But what if you listened to someone else’s life or music? This is the challenge Livingston takes on with his listen to the untitled series.

Random residents stop on their way to work or play, and listen to the urban furniture: traffic cones, mailboxes, lampposts.

Each object tells a story; alternating with music inspired by the streetscape. No two objects are alike. 

Boxes

Influenced by the work of artist Joseph Cornell, writer Vladimir Nabokov, and philosopher Walter Benjamin; Guy Livingston has been building self-contained boxes for several decades, but very slowly. Most of these are evanescent, and only exist long enough to be filmed and then recycled. One was sent to Paris and did not come back. And one is going to the moon.

Frequently these boxes use a multimedia approach, as with his one-minute videos. The music for each of these miniature films is by a different composer. The videos were designed and produced in Den Haag by Guy Livingston and “Newt Hinton”. They were filmed in Amsterdam. All the boxes incorporate movement in addition to the musical soundtrack; the potential energy of inanimate objects is explored in a playful or sinister way. Balls roll back and forth inexplicably; wood is consumed by violent drilling; objects burst into flame; and old-fashioned turntable begins to smoke as it plays a mysterious record…

video by Guy Livingston/Newt Hinton. music by Art Jarvinen, performed by Guy Livingston

Video by Guy Livingston/Newt Hinton. Soundtrack by Oliver Schneller.


Music and Architecture

“A pianist with a flair for modernism”  

The New York Times 
Brunelleschi’s famous Duomo in Florence – full of musical proportions

Music and Architecture have been linked philosophically and physically since at least the time of the ancient Greeks. In today’s world, some of these connections have been forgotten, while others have only become possible with new technology. The world of virtual reality, digital audio, wifi, and miniaturized electronics are opening up a magnificent spectrum of options.

Guy Livingston studied music and architecture at Yale University. He is currently in residence at a former embassy in The Hague, designed by Bauhaus architect Marcel Breuer. His studio is on the 3rd floor of this cold-war brutalist monument. He uses the space to record his weekly podcasts, and to host a concert series, both under the name: “The Bug,” an ironic nod to the spies who worked in the building.

Livingston is creating a new performance for piano, video, and electronics, which explores the links between space and music: an immersive program of piano, video, and electronics. Featuring Music for Airports (Brian Eno), Guy’s solo arrangement of Canto Ostinato (Simeon ten Holt); The Great Gate of Kiev by Mussorgsky (piano arrangament); Debussy’s Sunken Cathedral; a Talking Heads cover (Burning Down the House); an opportunity for the audience to “play the building” using an app on their smartphones. 

Guy Livingston in Marcel Breuer’s brilliant cold-war library – a concrete and mahagony cube from 1955.

Audible Architecture (for the Bauhaus Centennial)

In concert, Guy’s trademark relaxed style, honed through years of podcasting and radio work, is used as a narrative tool to bring us back to his freshman year in college, and his first architecture class at Yale, with the legendary art historian Vincent Scully. 

photos from classic and rediscovered Bauhaus films

Seated unconventionally, breaking the 4th wall, or even lying on the floor during Canto Ostinato, this concert is an experiential, immersive one for the audience; an eye and ear opener.

From there Livingston guides us through his summer measuring medieval temples in the Thar Desert, then to his years living on the left bank, overlooking Nôtre-Dame, and then on up to the Bauhaus and how it came to influence him personally.

with piano, video, and electronics (plus an interactive audience app)

An interactive, immersive experience for the audience…the format resembles a musical TedTalk: High energy, with unexpected insights presented in an entertaining manner.

in front of the ex-embassy

The visuals and the program sequence are being developed in conjunction with an architectural/acoustics firm TBA.