What would the world we see sound like, if we could hear it?

Two weekends ago I went to Dia:Beacon with my wife (a dancer) and a bunch of other dancers. Dia is a wonderful modern art museum just north of NYC in Beacon. The dancers had a performance planned in the museum, the intention being to “bend public space, but not break it.” This meant that they would interact with each other, the art, the space, etc., but if it became noticeable to general museum goers the dance would fade away, disappear, break apart. If a random museum goer stood still for 10 minutes they would probably notice something out of the ordinary was going on, but otherwise the movements would be too subtle to stand out. I participated in this some, but not being a dancer I didn’t dive in fully, though it really did provide a new way of experiencing a museum. This opened me up to experiencing the museum in other ways too, outside of the dancers’ parameters.

This manifested itself at the Sol Lewitt exhibit. The exhibit was comprised of many of his wall drawings, where he writes out directions, then teams of other people draw the actual drawings later on. When I first saw the pieces in the exhibit I was immediately struck by how computational they looked. It seemed to me that this guy was taking the world of generative computer art and recreating it by hand. This made sense since just like you give a computer step by step instructions of what to do, he was giving step by step instructions of what to draw.

One of the drawings consisted of 4×4 grids of lines; vertical, horizontal, diagonal up and diagonal down:

These patterns would alternate from square to square based on a numbering pattern:

Whole walls were filled up with these patterns:

Since I was in this mental space of experiencing things in new ways I wondered what would these drawings sound like if each of these numbers was a scale step of a major scale. I started singing the drawings in my head and was pleasantly surprised to find that many of them were actually nice melodies:

That is the first 4×4 grid played on piano (and drawn) from here:

I started wandering around the museum and whatever direction (straight, sideways, diagonal) I was going I would listen to my movements in my head as the corresponding pitches in Lewitt’s directions. I then started experiencing the other art work in the museum as music, and then the architecture. I even started seeing the nature outside and wondering what the trees would sound like, what about the infinite changes in angle of branches? It was quite wonderful. I decided then that this was what I wanted to research next… What would the world I can see sound like, if it could be audible?

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