Do You Hear the Light?

A silent concert of lighting designs graced the Helen Mills Theater last night for the exhibition Audible Light. New York City students from across the design spectrum competed for cash prizes in the Illuminating Engineering Society’s ninth-annual student lighting competition. Faced with the challenge of translating sound into light without making any noise, approximately 50 entrants played off notions of sensual experience and scientific mechanics to create a twinkling display.

Hye Yeun Lee with Subway Sounds. Click audible_light to see it in action.

The grand prize went to Hye Yeun Lee, an interior-design student at Parsons, for her project Subway Sounds. This was her first attempt at lighting design, for which she’s been awarded $3,000 and a trip to the Professional Lighting Designers Association (PLDA) Lighting Workshop in Europe. The moving lights on an undulating form are a riff on the sounds of the city. “Every day I take the subway and it’s so crazy and dirty,” Lee says “So I’d look at the beautiful lights.”

Ching-Yu Lin plays with Hey, It’s a Party

Ching-Yu Lin, a lighting student at Parsons, brought home the silver prize (and $1,500) for his turntable design Hey, It’s a Party. As participants “scratch” the record shapes, lighting patterns shine through. Lin designed the piece to provoke an intuitive sense of rhythm. Anyone who has seen a DJ perform will immediately feel the sense of wanting to reach out and nudge the record back and forth. Lin said he wanted “to avoid something with electrical sensors. Something manual is more interesting.”

Rain Drops by Young Taek Oh and Sukmo Koo

Third place went to the team of Young Taek Oh and Sukmo Koo, from NYU and Pratt respectively, for the modern-looking and nature-inspired Rain Drops. “When I was a kid and heard the raindrops on the roof, that was the most beautiful sound I ever heard,” Oh reminisced. The poetic motion of rain drops on the lightbox is activated with the push of a button.

Across the range of pieces students did a good job of integrating notions of hearing into expressions of light. And it turns out that there’s actually some precedence for light making sound-in outer space. Christine Hope from Focus Lighting, a judge of the competition, pointed out a phenomenon called Auroral Kilometric Radiation in which solar particles in the aurora borealis have been found to emit radio waves. By comparison, the students’ work is a little more down-to-earth, but the exhibition certainly suggests that the sky’s the limit for bright design.

Categories: Arts + Culture