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by Jeff Nania on March 29, 2012


The Troy Gasholder building was transformed into an apocalyptic edge of the world on Saturday and Sunday nights. Artist and RPI professor Michael Oatman was captain of the team that brought this large-scale interactive multimedia experience to Troy as part of his Production, Installation, Perfomance studio. Students from RPI’s architecture and animation programs came together to work with Oatman, professor Shawn Lawson, and world-class violinist Todd Reynolds.

In the round: the interior of Troy's Gasholder Building in the lead up to S(around)OUND.

The line to get in Saturday night stretched down the block and was a couple hundred people deep. You could hear a pulsing beat on the street, and there was a permeating feeling of anticipation. The entrance didn’t make way to a large open space like you might expect from looking at the circular 19th-century structure. Instead you were greeted by 30-foot-high geometrical walls that were arranged in a cavernous manner, and were juxtaposed by a winding inflated passageway. There was a certain haunted-house-like feeling as people made their way around the perimeter, not knowing what they would stumble upon next. The floor was unfinished, and as people clomped through the dirt and the dust that made its way into the air, it suggested the ambience of walking on the moon.

Computer animations were projected on the surface of floating spheres and circles. Piano wires that were draped along the walls effectively allowed guests to “play the building.” Construction lifts in the center carted groups up to a dizzying height, allowing a totally different perspective on the whole shindig.

Reynolds meandered through the crowd with his electrifying violin. He would approach people, who seemed unaware that he was, in fact, the one providing the soundtrack for the experience. At times he rode a construction lift in the center of the building all the way to the top, and his image was projected in various colors and effects on the walls. He played over a constant electronic beat that was controlled at ground zero, right in the middle of it all, by a musician using an iPad, MacBook, and various other control surfaces harnessed to the Ableton Live software program to create the backdrop for the haunting violin sounds.

Upon entering, this experience had a processional kind of quality to it, almost like a funeral. It was like an ode to the end of the world, and yet it seemed to offer a fantastical alternate reality. Like many performances, it built in intensity throughout the course of the evening, but unlike just any performance, there was no audience—at least in the traditional sense of the word. Visitors made the experience their own by choosing their own path through the building, discovering little nooks and crannies, interacting with the building, riding the lifts and meeting people.

The building is essentially a giant cylinder that boasts a 50-foot-high ceiling. It formerly housed a large steel tank that stored coal gas, supplying the city’s gas lights during the industrial era, but it had become a mere relic until recently. This was not your average art show. The building itself was the centerpiece, and the people who dared to enter it became the catalyst.