Every hour, 400 white Tyvek sculptures open and close in a synchronized dance. The sight is similar to soaring paper airplanes, a flock of birds in flight, or small white umbrellas unsure if it is going to rain. Called Diffusion Choir, this 60-foot sculpture hangs in the atrium of a Cambridge, MA-office building and it is the brainchild of Eric Gunther ’00, MEng ’02 and Jeff Lieberman ’00, SM ’04, SM ’06 and their creative teams—SosoLimited, Plebian Design, and Hypersonic.
“Every 15 minutes, it does a choreographed routine to mark the passage of time,” explains Eric Gunther co-founder of SosoLimited. “It’s always moving, and as you get to the top of the hour it gets more active.”
This is not the first collaboration for Gunther and Lieberman. The pair have done past work together with the Global Data Chandelier and Patterned by Nature. They first met in a computer music course their senior year at MIT and started their band Knolls, formerly Gloobic, two years later. The band’s Facebook page boasts the duo’s improvisational ability: “collectively channeling vibrations from the infinite to the finite domain.”
While the idea for the band was “born on a greasy pizza receipt,” the idea for Diffusion Choir was decidedly less messy. “Less greasy sheets but more markers, lots of scribbles,” jokes Gunther. Jeff Lieberman, science evangelist at Plebian Design, adds that the duo printed large photos of the office atrium “at really low opacity…and drew big marker drawings on top of them to know what would feel right in the space.”
From that improvisational brainstorming session, the pair concluded one solid sculpture would have blocked much of the space’s natural light. “That’s when we realized some distributed network of elements would keep the openness of the space,” adds Lieberman.
According to a recent article in WIRED magazine, each element of the sculpture moves an estimated 1,800 times per day. In order to ensure the piece will last, the team runs accelerated testing at a Brooklyn lab, forcing sample Tyvek elements to run at rates 10 times faster that they move in the sculpture. To date, their test elements have run the equivalent of 20 years, a promising indication of Diffusion Choir’s own longevity.
Once the three-week installation of Diffusion Choir was complete, there were some unexpected results. “Occasionally when all of them loop, it sounds like a choir in the distance,” said Gunther. “It was totally unintentional.” The sound was so unexpected that Gunther thought there might actually be a choir performing nearby.
“My body had such a strong response to the piece,” adds Gunther. “My breathing just slowed down, and it kind of felt like I was swaying with it.”