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A Site-Specific Sound-Art Installation for the NYU Bobst Library Atrium, 2019

About the Work

Once per day—timed to coincide with sunset in New York City—an array of four computer-controlled loudspeakers, installed on the catwalks surrounding the atrium of Bobst Library and directed towards the building’s open interior, will project a brief cascade of electroacoustic tones of varying timbres, frequencies, and durations, unfolding in kaleidoscopically changing patterns and blending harmoniously with the ambient sounds of human activity within the vast, resonant space.

This sound installation, entitled RETU(R)NINGS, draws upon data from the turnstiles at Bobst Library’s main entrance—the anonymized records of the number of persons who entered the building each hour on selected dates from 2016, 2017, and 2018. The chosen dates coincide with the four lunar quarters of each month, yielding nearly 150 data sets. A computational algorithm, artfully designed to sonify those raw numbers, transforms each data set into a one- to two-minute sequence of musical tones. Just as the number and pattern of people entering the building changes every day, each historical data set, when sent through the algorithm, produces a distinctive and unpredictable sonorous result.

The physical design of RETU(R)NINGS consists of two pairs of loudspeakers, mounted in custom-designed metal towers on the fourth- and eighth-floor, east- and west-side balconies respectively. The spatialized deployment of the loudspeakers in effect turns the atrium into a cathedral-like resonator. Adding to the resonance of the 150-foot high interior are the resultant acoustical effects of the pixelated metal veil that surrounds the atrium.

As a real-time listening experience, the installation’s sounds emerge from, interleave with, and blend back into the ambient murmur and bustle produced by the mechanical physiology of the building (elevators, air conditioning systems) and the flow of the NYU community going about its variegated activities in the library. In both concept and effect, these indeterminate, reverberant background “noises” are integral to the music of RETU(R)NINGS. As the articulated tones expand and dissolve into the atrium’s ambient soundscape, the piece will offer library users a moment to pause, listen, and connect with the sonified presence of fellow members of the academic community, with our shared public environment, and with the slow, cyclical, planetary rhythms that affect us all.


  • Musical Composition, Sound Design, and Co-Production

    Elizabeth Hoffman (Professor, NYU Department of Music)

  • Original Concept and Co-Production

    J. Martin Daughtry (Associate Professor, NYU Department of Music)

  • Co-Production

    Kent Underwood (Director, Avery Fisher Center for Music and Media, NYU Libraries)

  • Loudspeaker Tower Design and Fabrication

    René Pierre Allain (Scholes Street Studios, Brooklyn, New York)

  • Loudspeakers

    Heinz Electrodynamic Designs (HEDD)