Living in a large city requires a constant effort to block unwanted noise, both physically, through architectural soundproofing, and also mentally. We keep our sanity by ignoring the constant noise, and seeking out refuges of calm spaces to escape to.
The Guggenheim in New York takes this survival instinct to another level with the second instalment of Stillspotting, a tour through Manhattan’s quietest out-of-the-way places. Guided and self-guided tours will lead listeners through a series of “still spots” intended to cultivate awareness of the aural environment. Since some of these spots are located on private property, the ticketed event is limited to exhibit hours, this weekend and next.
The sites for the NYC leg of Stillspotting were chosen by Snøhetta, one of the architecture firms currently developing ground zero in lower Manhattan. In five areas along the periphery of the ground zero site, Snøhetta has partnered with Estonian minimalist composer Arvo Pärt, whose musical score will be intensified by the addition of Snøhetta’s weather balloon-based interventions, simultaneously altering the physical and the acoustic environment.
Pärt’s original compositions are each centred on a single tone, reducing and focusing sound. Visitors will encounter them all as they move from the Battery Conservancy to an underground chamber beneath the Governers Island National Monument to skyscrapers off-limits the rest of the year – and are encouraged to come back to each site, paying close attention to the changing effects of the silence and music as their senses recalibrate to quiet in the same way that our eyes adjust to darkness.
After developing an increased sensitivity to the effects of urban noise, there’s still more to explore, including an online interactive Noise Map, populated with noise complaints phoned in to City Hall’s 311 line. As you hover over areas of the city, you’ll read logs of actual comments like “Neighbor purposely throwing things against the wall …. Plaster is falling down” and “A couple of helicopters flying over the location causing loud noise and interferring with quality of life at location” – comments that not only provide insight into city noise, but also the value of quiet.
Stillspotting runs September 15th to 18th and 22nd to 25th. Tickets are available through the Guggenheim website.