The world is a pretty jangly and disturbing place these days. The cacophony of New York City, the constant buzz of political shenanigans, and the roar of dissent across the planet makes daily life rather jarring. So slip into the Rubin Museum for an aural cleansing. Curator Risha Lee’s The World Is Sound will delight your ears and give your brain a rest.
The show, in essence, turns the entire museum into a soundscape. Everything resonates. Step out of the first-floor bathroom and the hallway chants to you. The elevator has its own soundtrack. Walk up the beautiful curved stairway (a relic from when Barney’s department store inhabited the space), and “Le Corps Sonore” (2017), a site-specific installation by Eliane Radigue, Laetitia Sonami, and Bob Bielcki, accompanies you, designed to interact with your movements. Chanting, electronic, and organic sounds merge to form an enveloping contemporary symphony. It’s lovely.
The immersive concept of this exhibition is cool, surprising, and uses the architecture of the building in a unique and moving way. Many of the sound pieces, whether commissioned by the museum, crowd-generated, or on loan from contemporary composers, are highly compelling. A collection of contemporary sound artworks, curated by C. Spencer Yeh, has some truly transcendental works in it. I particularly loved “Suspension” by Samita Sinha, which combines the sounds of the Hindi alphabet with the structure of Indian classical music.
The exhibition also, shall we say, resonates with visitors. Take the Om Lab, a listening room with a soundtrack made from thousands of museum visitors recording the word “om” (a basic element of Buddhist chant meditation) over several months. Those recordings were mixed to form a multilayered sound environment, where visitors can choose to join in and chant or just let the sound wash over them. The sight of a dozen people lost in sound there is wonderful to behold.