paper music existed as two separate installations in 2012. The first was held in Milan as part of MOST, an exhibition curated by Tom Dixon, and the second was installed in New York’s Javits Centre during ICFF. Both projects were collaborations with American sound artist Ethan Rose, and both presented vibrant new colours for softwall + softblock.
paper music was installed in the cloisters of the Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologie Leonardo da Vinci. Under a canopy of cloud softlight mobiles, a passageway of yellow textile softwalls winded through the ancient walkways. A new system of transducers devised by Stephanie Forsythe + Todd MacAllen transformed the honeycomb structure of the walls into speakers, which played an original composition by Rose. The piece was a delicate orchestra of paper sounds. Recordings of tearing, ripping, ruffling and folding were layered into a sixteen channel theme that drifted throughout the stone cloisters.
instead of a linear conception of music, one in which a song has a clear beginning and end, Rose’s composition could be mixed and changed by a visitor’s movement. Each channel of the composition played from a different point along the softwalls. Visitors could stand in one place and listen to a specific arrangement, or venture back and forth through space to transform their auditory surroundings. As children rushed down the hallway, or as their parents meandered along behind them, their experience was defined and redefined.
when children are faced with the soft collection, they display a carefree curiosity and natural understanding of its elements. Adults can be more hesitant. The different moods conjured through the combination of colours and Rose’s compositions created environments where that distinction could be be blurred, where a child’s delight influenced an adult’s curiosity and sense of play.
the walls themselves were a brilliant, translucent yellow, absorbing and transmitting sunlight with cheerful intensity. The colour even formed an optical illusion as guests left the passageway. By passing slowly through the walls, one’s eyes adjusted to the vibrant tones. If a guest turned their eyes towards the cloudy sky, the residual contrast created the impression of a bright blue instead of a muted grey. That range of reciprocal colour, the yellows and blues that span and balance the sky, is of great interest to Forsythe + MacAllen, and heavily influenced the decision to introduce these specific colours into the soft collection. In addition to the transducers, LED ribbons twined through the softwalls. The ribbons helped to preserve the warm glow of sunshine, as if the translucent material had soaked up the day’s sun and held onto its light. After nightfall, visitors could gaze out across the cloisters and behold a mysterious arrangement of floating clouds and gleaming colour.
on one particularly gusty day, molo adapted to the changing conditions by transforming the flexible walls into columns. A simple process, as softwall’s honeycomb structure allows each element to compress in on itself. Turning the magnetic end panels towards each other and connecting both ends creates a simple, stable column. Just as the birds singing in the courtyard blended with Rose’s music, the wind offered a welcome improvisation to the installation. Each gust started the cloud softlight mobiles dancing overhead and the yellow walls—tethered to the columns of the cloister—would snap into great arcs like sails catching wind.
a news article, shared by molo in the weeks leading up to paper music, spoke of colour inspiration from Luis Barragán. In 1997, Stephanie Forsythe was living in New York on a very small income and committed herself to purchasing a single book per week. For her birthday, she treated herself to a beautiful volume showcasing Barragán’s work. Flipping through those pages evokes the Mexican architect’s powerful ability to conjure a mood or impression through his vibrant palette. Adding colour to the soft collection created new opportunities to change atmosphere without the fatigue or sadness that may come from the permanent application of colour.
Barragán also understood how ambient sound creates a silence of its own, how the whispers of his fountains could centre people in space. In much the same way, Rose’s composition centred guests within the Milan and New York installations.
blue New York
at ICFF, the torqued arrangement of paper softblocks created a haven of deep calm. An intense blue was selected for the opaque material, absorbing and reflecting light to create inky shadows and mysterious luminosity. As guests passed through the threshold, they were absorbed into the rich tones and auditory experience of Rose’s composition. When they stepped out from the room, they were returned to the pace and energy of the trade show hall.
within the blue room, visitors experienced a very different physical sensation of sound. Like in Milan, different sounds radiated from different locations in the installation, drawing guests around the space. If they reached a hand out to touch the softblocks, they could feel the vibrations running through the paper. One of the most common responses to seeing softwall or softblock for the first time is to run a finger along the pleats; this creates a satisfying ticking sound. At ICFF, this occurred often. It added an improvisational quality to the music, each guest contributing their own burst of instrumentation.
creating space through sensory experience is central to molo’s design philosophy, and is one of the shared interests that united the studio with Ethan Rose. While molo communicates this interest through the tactile paper architecture of the soft collection, or the ritualistic elements of products like the float tea lantern, Rose explores these themes through his orchestrated soundscapes. Over the last ten years, Rose has conceived sound exhibits that emphasize how organic forms and repeating, organized inconsistencies can sketch the boundaries of a space.
for paper music, Rose played with softwalls in his studio. He recorded them as they moved, folded or compressed. Rose’s composition captured the essence of the walls in sound, and then was broadcast back through softwall + softblock to add subtle dimensionality to the installations.