The Trafalgar Square sound portal

The Be Open Sound Portal, this year’s London Design Festival Trafalgar Square centrepiece, is a bit of a paradox.

CGI aerial view of the Sound Portal
CGI aerial view of the Sound Portal

It has all the hallmarks of a conceptual art space – a giant, rubberised ‘sound portal’ showcasing the work of five aural artists.

But to its organiser Be Open and creator Arup, the installation is design in its purest sense – a working laboratory which allows Arup’s sound engineers to experiment in the sort of sound design concepts they also put to use in airports, stadiums and other commercial projects.

CGI view of the Sound Portal
CGI view of the Sound Portal

The sound portal is a rather intimidating black installation in the centre of bustling Trafalgar Square. As Ivan Pavlov, one of the contributing artists, points out, ‘It looks like a chapel from another planet’.

Inside the portal is a bright, white central space, with a round Corian bench in the centre, and speakers set up around the ceiling and walls and (judging by the bass vibrations) in the floor as well.

The interior
The interior

Inside the installation, you’re completely cut off from the sound of central London outside, although a ceiling window means you still see pigeons, planes, clouds and the occasional glimpse of the National Gallery.

The installation will play host to five artists over five days – Pavlov, Nathanial Robin Mann, Jo Thomas, Tom Jenkinson (aka Squarepusher) and Jana Winderen – all commissioned by Sound and Music.

The ceiling window
Listening…

Each has a produced a very different piece of site-specific work, Pavlov’s, for example, is a haunting choral piece, Mann’s features snatches of sea shanty, while Thomas’s really pushes the limits of the sound system with some teeth-jarring distortion.

All very nice (or challenging) but the real worth of the Sound Portal seems to be in the opportunity it has given Arup, to develop a sonic installation in one of London’s noisiest squares.

Listening…
The ceiling window

Throughout its installation in Trafalgar Square, students from Chelsea College of Art will be conducting sound research at the portal (presumably using members of the public…) and it will travel to CCoA for further research following its stint in central London.

The Be Open Sound Portal is in Trafalgar Square until 23 September. Entrance is free of charge.

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