• Kevin Keller

Deep Words (like "Muirbiliuqe")

Updated: Jun 4, 2018

Last summer (2017), I had the honor of working with the design team at New York’s American Museum of Natural History, composing custom music for their new exhibit called “Our Senses”. The exhibit was planned as a hands-on journey through the world of the senses, with 8 connected rooms that explored subjects like color, touch, smell, and artificial intelligence.

The most challenging room ended up being what we affectionately called “The Wave Room”. This was to be a room that used special wall and floor coverings on which were drawn wavy lines to challenge your sense of balance. These wavy lines created the optical illusion that the floor and walls were curved and undulating, even though they were in fact flat.

The museum’s design team asked for a sound score that would echo this feeling of disorientation, with voices and noises that would move around the room, and sound as though they were “flipped” upside down.

After a lot of experimentation, I arrived at the idea of recording my own voice saying words like “equilibrium” and “balance”, and then playing that recording backwards at half speed. To further play with the idea of disorientation, I played this backwards recording through a long reverb, and then played that sound in reverse.

The final touch was to take a snippet from the vocal track used in another room in the exhibit, and play that in reverse. Each time the vocal track is repeated, the pitch is dropped by a major 3rd, giving the feeling that time is slowing down. The voice track also served as a way to tie the “Wave Room” to the other rooms, giving greater continuity to the visitors’ journey.

The overall effect: a wavy funhouse!

Have you visited the American Museum of Natural History and seen "Our Senses"?

Please share your experience in the comments below. Thanks!