bill fontana's shadow soundings at MAAT museum / live from RESONATE lisbon

bill fontana's shadow soundings at MAAT museum / live from RESONATE lisbon

since its opening in 2016, lisbon’s MAAT museum, the building designed by amanda levete, has featured some of the world’s most renowned artists. inside the exhibition space, american pioneer in artistic sound experimentation bill fontana, showcased his latest project ‘shadow soundings’ — an immersive sound and video installation that created a spatial composition from the live sounds of the iconic ’25 de abril’ (25th of april) bridge in lisbon.


designboom attended RESONATE lisbon, a one-day conference organized by MAAT and reSITE, aimed at an exclusive architecture, tech and art audience, focusing on architectural soundscapes, the technological innovation of sound environments, and the creation of ground-breaking acoustic experiences.


meyer sound labs’ D-mitri digital audio platform – a pivotal component in ‘shadow soundings’




the 2.3 km suspension bridge, opened in 1966, is strung between its two 190m-high support towers. there are railway tracks on the lower deck and the upper deck with its steel grid surface is used by road vehicles. fontana made seven visits to lisbon over 1 1/2 year to set microphones and cameras in the bridge that capture its esence. in this installation, especially created for MAAT museum’s show, the artist underlines the sonority of the bridge and surrounding areas, so familiar to the city’s residents, and amplifies them until they acquire a musical quality.


shadow soundings creates a real time connection between the 25th of april bridge and the MAAT museum in lisbon
image © designboom



the legendary san francisco-based artist bill fontana often couples a dynamic sound dimension with a live-streaming video component. in this work he is using seven projections – sourced in real time through optical cables – connecting the MAAT with the bridge itself. from 34 loudspeakers, he creates an electronic mix of 10 live sound channels.


if the road surface was asphalt, there wouldn’t be shadows visible of vehicles from underneath
image courtesy bill fontana


as the artist explains, from these ‘moving shadows that produce the iconic singing sound of the bridge’ emerged the title: ‘shadow soundings’. 
image courtesy bill fontana



the installation in MAAT’s main gallery shows unique views of the bridge and the tagus river, as well as unknown angles of the shadows of vehicles moving across the bridge. an immersive sound sculpture is created from two parallel rings of speakers. one ring surrounds the inner core of the oval gallery and plays a sonic choreography made from the live oscillating tones of traffic over a steel grid roadway and accelerometers picking up the accumulative sonic energy from the main suspension cables. a second parallel ring of speakers sounds over the outer walkway ramp surrounding the oval gallery and plays a spatial composition derived from live hydrophone in the tagus river. this live hydrophone sound also plays from speakers on the river – facing the facade of the MAAT.


beanbags inside the oval gallery allow visitors to rest a while
image © designboom



bill fontana, in his own words, is an artist who ‘captures the sound of things’. he is fascinated by bridges, describing them as living, dynamic structures and his first bridge piece, ‘oscillating steel grids along the brooklyn bridge’ (1983), was purely a sound piece. the oscillating sound generated by the steel roadway spanning was transmitted live at the world trade centre’s first twin tower. speakers were embedded in the architecture so it seemed as if the building itself was making the sound. ‘shadow soundings’ is no less of an acoustic experiment, but on a far bigger scale.


live cameras, microphones, accelerometers and hydrophones create an abstract real time media art work for the 800 square meter oval gallery
image © designboom



‘in the visual world, I still have a learning curve. there’s an excitement I have about that. sound is more transparently objective because I leave a lot to the imagination of the audience and with it I take them to the edge of vision. whereas if I use a moving image which I have filmed, it is very personal and subjective. I am inserting my view onto the audience, and so people see what I have selected to see. it’s intensely autobiographical and as personal as I have ever got.’ bill fontana says in the press conference, that designboom attended.


bill fontana is radically breaking down the relationship between sound and image, sight and sound, and taking us to another dimension of perception entirely
image © designboom


bill fontana and curator pedro gadanho at the opening press conference
image © designboom



fontana uses microphones and accelerometers in the same positions on the 25 de abril bridge, but the sounds they pick up appear to be heard at different times and different places. sound travels at different speeds in the air, which the microphones pick up, and in the steel the accelerometers are attached to. he then mixes them up live with a compositional tool – the matrix mixing console – to choreograph and extend movements of sound, so that it is deliberately layered even further away from reality, including the visual images.


on the vast 2.3 km suspension bridge bill fontana has been using seven projections, that capture the sonority of the bridge


oslo opera house


RESONATE lisbon is a one-day conference organized by MAAT and reSITE aimed at an exclusive architecture, tech and art audience, focusing on architectural soundscapes, the technological innovation of sound environments, and the creation of ground-breaking acoustic experiences. the event is presented in collaboration with meyer sound.

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