Composer Arvo Pärt and Snøhetta collaborated on a series of Stillspots around Lower Manhattan that explore the relationship between space and sound. Part's concept of tintinnabuli, "little bells" in Latin, which forms the basis of most of his work, was born from a deeply rooted desire for an extremely reduced realm of sound that could not be measured, as it were, in kilometers or even meters but only in millimeters.
In our busy everyday lives in cities such as New York, we often don't realize how our ears continually need time to adjust to strong differences between the sounds that surround us, just as the pupils of the eyes only gradually accommodate to the change from light to dark. Arvo Pärt strongly believes that our mind and senses do register these differences unconsciously, and at times we could benefit from a stronger awareness to these transitions. Oftentimes, the mysterious phenomenon of sensory adaptation is best observed through reduction rather than growing complexity. Reduction certainly doesn't mean simplification, but it is the way - at least in an ideal scenario - to the most intense awareness of the essence of stimuli.
While the dynamism and stimulation that the urban environment inspires can be pleasant, at times those living in or visiting densely populated areas such as New York, can have wildly different experiences. The ever-present cacophony of traffic, construction, and commerce; the anxious need for constant communication via e-mail, text messaging, and social media; and the continuous struggle for mental and physical space are in many ways a relentless assault on the senses. One wonders how locals and visitors can escape, find respite, and make peace with their space in the “city that never sleeps.”
The Guggenheim Museum responds with Stillspotting, a two-year urban project that takes the museum’s Architecture and Urban Studies Program out into the city’s boroughs. Every three to five months still spots are identified, created, or transformed by architects, visual and sound artists, designers, composers, and philosophers into public tours or installations.
Together the Stillspotting editions weave an unexpected and cross-disciplinary web of tranquility throughout the city, reflecting and responding to everyday issues of sound, visual noise, and anxiety.