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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Magnetic Sound installs immersive 'sound sculpture' at ICFF

MJ Caselden

MJ Caselden at ICFF

Magnetic Sound set up one of its immersive “sound installations” last week at New York’s Javits Center, where the Brooklyn-based firm made its first appearance at the annual high-end luxury ICFF furniture fair since it was founded in 2014 by MJ Caselden.

Electronic musician, Caselden--also Magnetic Sound’s “creative technologist”--has fused innovative technology with traditional stringed instrument design in devising what he calls “sound-generating installations and guided listening experiences.” These are achieved by harnessing magnetic energy in inducing vibrations in metal and wood, and creating overtone-heavy sound environment “soundscapes” that promote meditation and relaxation.

Caselden’s Infinity installation at ICFF comprised two resonating “sculptures” resembling rectangular wooden loudpeakers. These housed metal strings that produce sound when the electromagnets beneath them are activated by custom app-programmed tablets.

“It’s software-generative,” said Caselden of the Magnetic Sound concept. “The software creates a new combination of sounds each time, breaking out of the digital domain into chaos, such that there is an infinite number of distinct playbacks possible—hence the name Infinity.”

Besides the tablets and apps, Infinity has a spoken-word user guide to help participants move into a meditative experience.

“It’s part of a growing collection of sound-generating sculpture designed to calm the mind,” continued Caselden. “In contemporary art tradition, each piece is signed and sold as an art piece.”

Like other Magnetic Sound installations, Infinity draws on harmonic frequency patters similar to those used in spiritual sound rituals that have been practiced globally for millennia. Indeed, Caselden likens the “natural resonance” achieved by Magnetic Sound systems to Om meditation chants, Mongolian throat singing, Tibetan singing bowl meditations, and the didgeridoos of Aboriginal Australia.

“I have a Western music background, but I like to break out of the cultural framework of the Western tuning system,” said Caselden, who trained in electronics at the University of Southern California and New York University, and studied sound design at Berklee College of Music.

“The strings resonate with a slow, tranquil vibration, and facilitate meditative listening,” he added, explaining how the magnets, controlled by custom algorithms from the generative software, drive energy into the metal strings, causing them to vibrate. The vibrations then spread through the entire wooden sculpture like any other stringed instrument, creating, he said, “sound for a mindful space.”

Magnetic Sounds’ growing collection of calming sound-generating sculpture has been installed in meditation centers in the U.S. and Europe. The company has also collaborated with tech companies including Intel in developing custom versions for collectors and business entities, like Brooklyn sensory deprivation/flotation therapy center Lift Next Level Floats, where a two-piece sound sculpture installation in the lounge creates an area for calmness, mental clarity and introspective respite, before and after a flotation experience.

Another custom Magnetic Sound commission, Sounding Box #11, was designed for the littleBits Electronics office in Manhattan’s Starret Lehigh building. Caselden was the starting engineer at littleBits, and led firmware development for product releases as the company expanded. His “gestural responsive” Sounding Box #11 is an interactive sound sculpture triggered by participants who control the sound through motion—a theremin-like hand-waving gesture—and even by casting shadows on the tiny sensor-embedded littleBits electronic modules, thereby sending electronic signals to sound the strings and create harmonious sounds complementing the surrounding environment.

Magnetic Sound has also staged exhibitions at the 231 Gallery of The New Museum of Contemporary Art and hosted workshops at yoga studios and festivals, and public spaces including the subway system of the City of Boston.

Current installations offer audio prompts for breathwork, guiding visitors into deeper states of relaxation or meditation, and with headphones for listening to audio recordings available to learn about the complexities of the artwork in addition to guidance in meditating.

“It’s ‘experiential marketing,’” said Caselden. “People are engaging with artwork and buying an interfacing experience. They come to experience it and then provide feedback, giving us direction in creating new sound installations and sculptures.”

“A lot of research-and-development has gone into it,” he concluded.

An immersive Magnetic Sound installation at Lift Next Level Floats, a sensory deprivation/flotation therapy center in Brooklyn.



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