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At the Rubin Museum, a home for your ‘Om’

Daniel Neumann, acoustic designer for June 2017’s “The World Is Sound,” demonstrates how a visitor will record their “Om.” Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic.
Daniel Neumann, acoustic designer for June 2017’s “The World Is Sound,” demonstrates how a visitor will record their “Om.” Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic.

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | If recent presidential executive orders are causing hyperventilation, the Rubin Museum of Art — which celebrates the art and culture of the Himalayas and neighboring regions — is offering a way to slow down, take a deep breath, and say “Om.”

“It’s a very important concept for our time right now,” Risha Lee, curator, said last week at a sneak peek of the museum’s newly installed “OM Lab.”

Starting Friday, Feb. 3, the temporary participatory space will invite visitors to the sixth floor — which has been turned into a sleek, sparse area dominated by a white booth in which willing participants can have a go at the enduring Sanskrit mantra.

“The process is a bit tricky,” Terence Caulkins, sound and interaction designer for the exhibition, said. “We’re trying to make it as easy as possible for people to produce their most authentic Om.”

Caulkins, who designed the iPad interface visitors will be using, said in a phone interview that the program will “guide people through the process of doing the recording.”

First, a visitor will prepare — sit upright, put on the headphones and get close to the microphone. Next, they will hear three samples of Tibetan monks chanting at lower, medium and higher pitches, and will hum along to see which pitch they should record at, Caulkins explained. After choosing their pitch, the visitor will then record their Om. While the chant is being recorded, a waveform is projected on the wall behind the booth.

Banners before the booth, will provide information about Om, which Lee said in a phone interview “has a huge 3,000 years of history that is absolutely fascinating, and might not be known to the wider public. We wanted to involve the community. Om by its nature is communal.”

“Om can be considered to be the most supreme mantra — it condenses all of the meaning into one word, so to speak,” Jorrit Britschgi, director of exhibitions, collections and research, said in a phone interview. “Om cannot be reduced to smaller parts. It’s the smallest possible molecule, sonically speaking.”

The OM Lab grew out of brainstorming and planning for a larger exhibition, called “The World Is Sound,” which will open in June, Lee explained. “The World Is Sound” is “so interesting, that it spilled over. We realized this [OM Lab] could be an exhibition itself,” she said.

Curator Risha Lee stands with banners whose reverse sides give information about the historical and religious context of Om. Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic.
Curator Risha Lee stands with banners whose reverse sides give information about the historical and religious context of Om. Photo by Dusica Sue Malesevic.

Britschgi said that the whole point of OM Lab is to be “an interactive and participatory experience” for visitors. Indeed, after the chants are recorded, they will be woven together, and will be part of “The World Is Sound” exhibition.

This will be the first time that visitors participating in one exhibition will be featured in another, Robin Carol, who does public relations for the Rubin, said.

After an initial culling of the chants, Caulkins will knit them together, with the hope “that it will create this interesting blending of voices,” he said. The installation featuring the Oms will be dynamic, shifting between different tones and chants, with visitors awash in a “sound bath” as loudspeakers will be placed around the room to create a “3D sound field,” Caulkins said.

Britschgi said the OM Lab is a way to connect with Himalayan art, and that “Om is deeply rooted to the traditions that the Rubin stands for.”

Carol said the museum does outreach to the Himalayan community — a hub of which is in Jackson Heights — with their monthly Himalayan Heritage Meetup, their Family Sundays program, and the museum’s block party.

The lab will deepen people’s experience and understanding of Om, Lee said. “The exhibition is connecting people with something they’ve already known and heard to something that’s greater. That was important — to plant the seed that things in the Rubin already exist in the outside world.” “The World Is Sound” exhibition, Lee added, will expand the narrative beyond the focus of objects.

In addition to the lab, the museum is also hosting an “OM-In” on Fri. and Sat., Feb. 24 and 25, which will feature a series of events — including adult coloring, sound meditation, lectures, performances, and yoga.

The OM Lab will be at the Rubin Museum of Art (150 W. 17th St., btw. Sixth & Seventh Aves.) from Feb. 3 through May 8. For more info, visit rubinmuseum.org.

‘Brainwave’ Series Houses Many Doors of Perception | A beacon of forward-thinking programming year in and year out, the Rubin Museum’s annual “Brainwave” series chose for 2017 the timely theme of “Perception” — a tack they took, mind you, long before the introduction of “alternative facts” into our increasingly Orwellian political lexicon.

The Rubin Museum’s “Brainwave” series is hard-wired for deep thought. Photo by Adam Ferguson.
The Rubin Museum’s “Brainwave” series is hard-wired for deep thought. Photo by Adam Ferguson.

Scheduled through May, here are some of the discussions, events and screenings in which scientists, spiritual leaders and artists challenge us to recognize the limits of our subjective worldview in order to “unshackle ourselves from the past, and unleash creativity, growth, and inspiration.”

The jilted and jaded are given practical tips for navigating Valentine’s Day, in the form of some preemptive TLC at Feb. 10’s “Buddhist Advice for the Brokenhearted.” Shambhala teacher Lodro Rinzler and addiction expert Judson Brewer converse about “love, suffering, and how emotion colors perception.”

“Would You be a Reliable Witness to a Crime?” is the question, and the title, of this March 5 event in which Lieutenant Ralph Cilento of the NYPD and Amy Herman (founder of the Art of Perception, Inc.) give a frank assessment of our ability to accurately remember events, then provide solid methods to enhance the power of observation.

March 15’s “When All You Hear is White Noise” has musician Peter Silberman (of The Antlers) recalling odd sensory experiences, when a temporary hearing loss flooded his mind with static. He’ll discuss the creative process, as well as how the brain interprets sound, with neuroscientist and hearing science specialist Mario Svirsky.

Microscopes and telescopes have long been used to expand human knowledge and advance our perception of the micro/macro world — but what are the implications when the machines we created begin to learn, and, in turn, teach us? At March 29’s “A.I. and Avatar: The New Explorers,” Roboticist Hod Lipson moderates a panel of scientists and philosophers who’ll discuss the far-reaching implications of rapidly developing artificial intelligence, robotics, and virtual reality.

That surface you stare at before going out into the world can have a more profound function than checking for flaws or boosting your ego. At April 29’s “Mirror Meditation,” Barnard College psychology professor Tara Well leads a workshop where participants learn how to gaze at their reflection “without an agenda” — a simple act that, ironically, advances the agenda to “reduce stress, anxiety, and depression while increasing self-compassion.”

—Scott Stiffler

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