American sound artist Bill Fontana has partnered with Meyer Sound in the creation of —Sonic Mappings— a permanent sound art installation for Rome’s MAXXI Museum. Fontana’s musical landscape pays tribute to Rome’s Acqua Vergine, the ancient waterway that is at the heart and soul of Roman civilization. Sonic Mappings is the centerpiece of Open Museum Open City, the museum’s latest exhibition dedicated to sound, which MAXXI Artistic Director Hou Hanru describes as “the most radical and experimental aspect of contemporary art.”
Undertaking an ambitious artistic journey, Fontana travelled the path of the Acqua Vergine from the source springs at Salone to the ancient tunnels still in existence under the streets of Rome. By using microphones, hydrophones, and accelerometers—some placed in the water flow and some imbedded into walls—Fontana captured the diversity and full range of sonic impact and acoustic resonance. From these source recordings, Fontana created a musical composition suffused with the acoustic, harmonic, and rhythmical qualities of the water, lending a perfect complement to the sensual undulating curves of the architecture by Zaha Hadid.
“Sonic Mappings connects listeners to what I think of as the acoustic soul of Rome—the sound of water ebbing and flowing through the city’s ancient aqueducts,” says Fontana. “After decades of creating sound sculptures, I have learned that creating a sense of immersion in a multi-dimensional soundscape can only be achieved using the most accurate audio technology. Without it, the listener’s illusion will break down. This is why the partnership with Meyer Sound is so critical for the Sonic Mappings experience.”
A long-time user of Meyer Sound technology, Fontana worked with Scott George of Autograph Sound to create the soundscape using two of Meyer Sound’s most powerful creative tools: SpaceMap® multichannel surround panning, which gives the designer a flexible tool to fly sounds through space, and the D-Mitri® digital audio platform, which provides the signal processing and distribution backbone for the sonic immersion. For reinforcement, Fontana specified MM-4XP self-powered loudspeakers to ensure the intricate detail of the sculpture is projected with utmost clarity and impact.
In addition to the permanently installed Sonic Mappings, Meyer Sound systems play a key role in the aural transformation of three other showpieces by artists including Philippe Rahm and Justin Bennett, who combine to deploy 82 MM-4XP loudspeakers in their exhibits. For Italian artist Francesco Fonassi, eight UPM-1P loudspeakers and two USW-1P subwoofers are implemented. Equipment support is provided by Carlo Volpe of Fox Sound Service and Linear Sound.
An internationally acclaimed artist, Fontana has created sound sculptures that have changed the perceptions of visual and architectural spaces around the world since the 1970s. Meyer Sound has played a central role in many of his projects, including exhibits at the Tate Modern in London, SFMOMA in California, Madison Square Park in New York City, and the Imperial War Museum in the UK. He has also done major radio sound art projects for the BBC, the European Broadcast Union, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, National Public Radio, West German Radio (WDR), Swedish Radio, Radio France, and the Austrian State Radio. Fontana was recently honored with a Golden Nica celebrating Lifetime Achievement from the Prix Ars Electronica.
Video interview with Bill Fontana