A sensory feast

If a tree falls in the forest and we are there to hear it, does it a make a different sound? What altered vibration filters through the listening ear? Or does a whole new resonance hum when humans are present?

‘Iceberg’ by ATOMIC3 + APPAREIL Architecture
For the artists who created “Iceberg”—a large-scale, interactive, sonic sculpture that will make its Colorado premiere at the 4th annual WAVE: Light + Water + Sound festival in Breckenridge May 31 to June 2, 2019—there is new music to explore in the intersection between humans and nature.

“An iceberg, in nature, makes sound because the water and wind that goes in the cracks resonates like a pipe organ,” said Canadian artist Félix Dagenais of ATOMIC3, which created the work in partnership with APPAREIL Architecture in collaboration with Jean-Sébastien Côté and Philippe Jean as part of a competition run by Quartier des Spectacles for Montréal en Lumière, Montreal’s festival of lights. The year before, the artists had entered a work designed to create reflections off snow, only to see it rain at the December festival. So the next year they decided to bring winter, in the form of an iceberg, to downtown Montreal.

“Icebergs are a barometer of climate change,” said Dagenais, recalling the white Christmases of his youth. “We wanted to create a comment about this reality—about why it’s hard to have snow in December in Montreal.”

Constructed of aluminum arches with sensors that react when visitors interact with it. “Iceberg” creates a spectacle of light and sound that changes as guests pass through from start to finish, intended to evoke an iceberg’s journey from the cold, isolated north to warmer, more populated lands to the south.

“At first, you hear natural sounds, cold sounds like ice and wind,” Dagenais said. But as temperatures warm and the iceberg begins to melt, the sonic landscape transforms into water drops and pipe organ musical notes. “There’s kind of a propagation effect. At the beginning it’s blue and cold. If there are people inside it, it becomes red, and reaches a lighting climax,” he said. “We’ve been inspired by nature. When an iceberg melts, it becomes unstable and flips on one side and creates a huge water splash. That is how we created that climax effect.”

“We play with the concept that human activity transforms the iceberg,” he explained. “We use the human activity in our piece, and make it more musical and more human from that point.”

Although the work calls attention to climate change, it is intended to be welcoming and interactive first and foremost. “For us the playfulness of that kind of installation art is important because they are made for everyone—from 4 years old to 78 years old,” Dagenais said. “After that it needs to be built on a stronger statement. People play, come back and read [about the sculpture], and then go explore it some more. People who want to dig deep can enjoy it more.”

‘CLOUD’ by Caitlind r.c. Brown + Wayne Garrett
The resonance of light waves is at play in “CLOUD,” an interactive work by Calgarybased artists Caitlind r.c. Brown and Wayne Garrett—and the combined effect depends on spontaneous human cooperation.

“We wanted to make a work where the audience becomes performers,” said Brown, describing how they were originally invited to create a performance piece for the late-night art festival, Nuit Blanche Calgary. Since then, the work has been exhibited around the world, soon to include its Colorado premiere at WAVE. “We like to think of ‘CLOUD’ as a puppet. When enough people participate, you get a really interesting social spectacle that occurs under the artwork.”

The sculpture is hewn from more than 6,000 incandescent light bulbs to resemble a storm cloud, with pull-chains hanging down like sheets of rain. Illuminated at night, it draws passersby to it like a beacon. “There’s something physiological about how we process light at night, especially electric light,” Brown said. “We want to move toward it.” After that, guests find themselves compelled to tug on the pull-chains to see what will happen.

“There’s this wonderful moment when people are underneath, and they pull the chain and look up and their eyeballs get very glittery and they have this moment of ‘Oh! That’s how it works,’” said Brown, describing the “reveal” moment when the audience realizes the incandescent lightbulbs do not light up—instead, they serve as a diffusion layer for LED lights, which illuminate the piece with a cool glow.

Many of the incandescent bulbs are in fact repurposed, burned-out bulbs—and Summit County residents are invited to donate theirs too, to repair the inevitable breakage that happens in shipping.

Reflections on recycling may be inescapable, but they are incidental to the piece. “We wouldn’t brand ourselves as environmental or recycling artists,” Garrett said, although they often work with urban byproducts. What started as a cheap way to source materials turned into a “sort of morbid curiosity in the scale of things we use, the extent to which an object exists,” he said. “It’s interesting to see all these together; it helps you think about your footprint.”

“CLOUD” itself was less about commenting on the environment, and more about the universality of the symbol. “We were fascinated by the fact that weather exists everywhere, regardless of boundaries or borders,” said Brown. It takes on “a familiar shape to someone even if they don’t share a language, so it’s a way of communicating with people.”

“If a group of people work independently, pulling things randomly, not much happens—things turn on and off and generally cancel each other out, creating a gentle flicker, a steady glow,” Garrett said. “If people try to self-organize and coordinate, you can see the effects of the group on the exterior of the artwork. I think there’s a connection to be made about the power of people when they work together.”

“We are pretty curious to see how the environment of Breckenridge will affect how people see the piece,” said Brown. “For us it’s quite delightful to see ‘CLOUD’ settle into different cities. Sometimes we think of ‘CLOUD’ as a barometer for the personality in different places.”

‘Light Flows’ by ACT Lighting Design
Above the Blue River, the Brussels-based agency ACT Lighting Design makes its U.S. premiere with “Light Flows,” a site-specific work intended to “immerse the public in a poetic tale” told through light, shadow, sound, and riverine reflections.

“We use a very light, almost invisible, suspended surface as the canvas of the story we want to illustrate,” explained Julie Boniche, the agency’s creative director. “A floating, animated light will appear on this surface,” depicting natural wonders from the “silver lines of clouds” and Northern lights to water caustics—the envelope of light rays reflected or refracted by water. A “sonic atmosphere” accompanies the installation.

“We chose to work above the beautiful river of the site, which brings a flowing feeling to our floating light,” Boniche said, because “we thought that the theme should be linked to the essential roots of the place. The river will be reflecting and spreading the light all around the area, which amplifies greatly the immersion and creates a strong link between water and light. There is so much wonder to discover in the darkness of the night,” she said.

Partnerships + Pieces
Numerous other spectacles of light, sound, nature, and human interaction are slated to grace the 2019 WAVE festival, among them the luminous wire sculptures, “Les Voyageurs” (The Voyagers) and “Les Oiseaux” (The Birds), by French artist Cédric Le Borgne. Integrated seamlessly into natural and man-made public spaces, these delicate, wire-mesh figures also make their U.S. premiere at WAVE, animating a corridor from the Breckenridge Arts District to Blue River Plaza in downtown Breckenridge.

Local artist Scott Young, of Denver, will illuminate the Arts District with gas-lit, neon sculptures inside and out—including “Tension,” an all-new work upstairs in Gallery@OMH that uses hand-worked neon to create a glowing, immersive environment; and “Intermittent Positive Reinforcement,” the first-time showing of a 400-pound smiley face in which guests use Instagram to change its expression. Young will also offer a neon-bending workshop and artist talk.

Guests are invited to bring animated movies to life in a musical art installation, “Loop,” by the Montreal-based art collective Ekumen— designed by Olivier Girouard, Jonathan Villeneuve, and Ottoblix, in collaboration with Générique Design, Jérôme Roy, and Thomas Ouellet Fredericks—by climbing inside giant wheels and using handcar-style, humanpowered levers to operate them. Once the wheels are spinning, they play fairytale-based, musical movies that vary in tempo, light frequency, and image speed depending on how fast guests move the lever. The concept is based on the 19th century zoetrope, a pre-film optical toy in which a sequence of subjects in progressive stages of action become animations when set in motion.

Afterwards, visitors can enjoy a more relaxing screening of water, light, and ecology-based films by the Breckenridge Film Festival at the Arts District, where there will also be an expanded slate of free workshops and family activities.

Popular favorites including the LightCycles community bike ride, and a cello performance by Russick Smith on an island in the Blue River, return again in 2019. In addition, the National Repertory Orchestra presents “Floating Brass,” a series of mobile pop-up performances that drift around the festival, animating the sonic landscape.

“WAVE transforms the Breckenridge nightscape into a hub for community interaction through artistic explorations of light, water, and sound— all spectacles of nature that travel in wave form,” said Robb Woulfe, CEO of Breckenridge Creative Arts. “With support from our partners and funders—including the Town of Breckenridge and the National Endowment for the Arts— WAVE gets better every year. We hope you will join us in 2019 as we infuse the night with a rich banquet of light and sound works, a sensory feast for the eyes, ears, hands, and minds.”

ACT Lighting Design // actld.com
APPAREIL Architecture // appareilarchitecture.com/en
ATOMIC3 // atomic3.ca
Caitlind r.c. Brown + Wayne Garrett // incandescentcloud.com
Cédric Le Borgne // cedricleborgne.com
Ekumen // ekumen.com
WAVE: Light + Water + Sound // breckcreate.org/wave

Credits: ‘Iceberg’ photo by Martine Doyon; ‘CLOUD’ photo by Doug Wong; ‘Loop’ photo by Steven Csorba; ‘Light Matters’ photo courtesy of the artists; video by Ford Fisher Productions.