Light and sound mix at new art exhibit

By Alicia Balderrama

Artist Sasha vom Dorp gives Cal Poly Pomona students a glimpse of humanity’s place in the universe with his exhibit “Sound Bending Light,” currently on display at the Don B. Huntley Art Gallery.

The exhibition showcases vibrant images and technology installations, documenting the artist’s experiments combining light and sound. The current exhibit is a preview to a larger exhibit that will be held in 2018 at the W. Keith and Janet Kellogg University Art Gallery.

“I’ve been fascinated with light and sound as long as I could remember,” said vom Dorp. “I realized that both light and sound are vibrations and that all matter in the universe vibrates at different frequencies. What fascinates me is seeing what happens when these two elements collide, and that’s what you see in my photographs.”

The scientific process behind each image is extensive and complex. In order to create the sound illuminator machine, vom Dorp acquired the outer casing of a 727 jet turbine and installed a subwoofer inside of it. A unique program created by vom Dorp controlled the speaker that translated ambient sounds into colored LED lights, depending on the pitch. Above the subwoofer, he installed a sheet of Plexiglas that is covered with a thin pool of water. As the speaker put out sound, the lights changed color and the vibrations created patterns and movement in the water.

The sound illuminator was on display in the Huntley Gallery during the opening week of the exhibition, which started on Jan. 23. During the exhibition, the machine was placed on a feedback loop, where sound translated to light which translated back to sound, so that the machine was, in essence, “talking to itself,” according to vom Dorp. The ambient sounds, that is, people talking, doors opening, footsteps and other small noises, would also become translated by the machine, so the resulting vibrations and movement created in the water would vary constantly.

At the technology installations in the rear of the gallery, visitors sit in a comfortable armchair in front of a screen featuring high-definition video of the sound illuminator in action. Then, they put on a pair of headphones and the experiment comes to life. The sounds emitted through the headphones are synchronized to the vibrations of the water on the screen, and the seat vibrates and hums to create a fusion of the auditory, the visual and the tactile. This, vom Dorp said, is the real purpose of his experiment, to have a full-body immersion experience.

According to Eduardo Chavez, a junior art history and graphic design student and an employee of the Kellogg Art Gallery, the exhibit has been quite popular.

“There’s usually a crowd, and they tend to go more towards the back with the videos because they like how it feels,” said Chavez. “You’re supposed to have the feeling of the vibrations and the music all come to one.”

He said that most visitors are intrigued as to how the photographs came to be because they are of such a high resolution. He also noted how difficult the images must have been to obtain because in many of them the artist had bent the light through prisms before allowing it to reach the surface of the sound illuminator.

Vom Dorp said that he came across the idea for the “Sound Bending Light” series by accident.

“I was interested in what sounds look like, so years ago I built a tetrahedron sculpture and I thought, ‘I should try to find the tetrahedron sound and put it in the sculpture,'” said vom Dorp. “That’s how I started experimenting with sound, trying to find that tetrahedron shape. It turns out sound is very fluid, so I’m not sure that I’ve actually found it yet.”

Vom Dorp has been working on this project since 2003, and it will come to full fruition in his larger exhibition at the Kellogg Gallery in 2018. He commented that he was excited to have a couple years to create more work to display and mentioned that he plans to work with some other natural elements in his upcoming pieces, including electricity and fire.

As for the “Sound Bending Light” series, vom Dorp said, “It has been a labor of love.” His exhibit in the Huntley Gallery ends April 7.

"Sound Bending Light"

Jean-Paul Escobar / The Poly Post

“Sound Bending Light”

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