On August 10 and 17, from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., a unique New York City roadway that thousands of people travel on every day will close to traffic, welcoming pedestrians for the first time in order to experience the latest sound and light art installation by artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. “Voice Tunnel is an interactive installation designed to transform the Park Avenue Tunnel,” Lozano-Hemmer told Pro Sound News.
The Voice Tunnel installation is just one part of New York City’s annual ‘Summer Streets’ event, which shuts down nearly seven miles of Park Avenue and Lafayette Street, extending from the Brooklyn Bridge to East 72nd Street, allowing New Yorkers to hang out and explore the route. A number of art installations, activities, food, performances and more take place along the way, offering visitors a perfect summer day in New York.
New to this year’s ‘Summer Streets’ is Lozano-Hemmer’s Voice Tunnel installation, which includes 300 theatrical spotlights and 150 loudspeakers lining the inside of the Park Avenue Tunnel, marking the first time in history that the tunnel is being opened to pedestrians.
Upon walking into the tunnel at the intersection of Park Ave. and either 33rd Street or 40th Street, visitors see intense theater lights lining each side of the tunnel. Each archway of light is connected to a loudspeaker, and the intensity of the light is controlled by the sound coming from the speaker.
Artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer
“We have a special intercom in the center, and as you speak into it, the computer records your voice and loops it,” said Lozano-Hemmer. “That loop takes over one archway of light and one loudspeaker. Different voices are spread over 150 channels of sound around the entire length of the tunnel.” As more people come into the tunnel and speak into the intercom, the recordings are pushed to the next speaker until all 150 speakers are projecting different recordings.
Lozano-Hemmer explained that the intensity of the lights is affected by how loudly people speak into the intercom. As you walk through the tunnel, you can experience the different sound and lights from every participant coming through. “It’s like eavesdropping on different conversations,” Lozano-Hemmer said.
Lozano-Hemmer said he entered the installation in a contest for ‘Summer Streets,” which asked artists to come up with ideas that could transform the tunnel into something new. As an interactive artist that works regularly with light and sound, Lozano-Hemmer said he was excited to create a project like ‘Voice Tunnel’ in the space.
“It’s an exciting opportunity to create an experience up there,” he said. “When I visited the tunnel, I came up with this idea for a large crowd that is generated by the participants themselves. I’m very interested in AV technology and a lot of the work I’m known for is interactive like that.”
However, one of the challenges Lozano-Hemmer faced when creating this spectacle was the short time frame for set up, as the tunnel still needs to be used by commuting traffic during the rest of the day. “We have to install the entire thing in four hours and then need to strike it in two hours,” Lozano-Hemmer said. He said his crew practiced the set up a few times to make sure they could do it in that time frame. “It was almost like a special operation.”
The acoustics in the tunnel are also poor, Lozano-Hemmer said, so he made sure to keep the speakers at a low volume to not take away from the impact of the art installation. But even with the poor acoustics, Lozano-Hemmer said he enjoyed working in the space.
“It’s a beautiful tunnel,” he said. “One of the beautiful things about it is that it’s perfectly straight. It’s also great because most of the shows I do with lighting, you have to wait until night time, but for this, you have something right in the center of town that’s completely dark.”
‘Voice Tunnel’ is open to the public from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, August 10, and Saturday, August 17, as part of the ‘Summer Streets’ event. Entry is free, and visitors can enter at either 33rd Street or 40th Street on Park Avenue.