As many of us have experienced, CMU can be an incredibly stressful environment. However, amid the packed studios, labs, and study spaces are hidden nooks and crannies that students have adopted as "safe havens" on campus. When in need of a mental (and emotional) escape, students are often found in the architectural niches of CMU's College of Fine Arts Building.
Each niche provides a degree of privacy and peaceful refuge in a public space—all while allowing students access to fresh air. While inside one of these niches, students have the choice to enjoy the interiors of the dome, observe the rest of the campus passing by, or to gently shut their eyes.
Structurally identical yet unique in decor, we selected the Islamic architecture niche, not necessarily for religious intent, but because the star motif on the ceiling represents a universally recognized, appreciated, and comforting feeling—looking up at stars and the sky—regardless of faith or belief.
Inspired by the stars motif on the ceiling of the niche, we selected and edited an animation of moving through an abstract field of stars. Due to the dome-shaped nature of the niche, when projected above, viewers feel as if the stars or particles are gently falling around them—creating a calm yet enthralling feeling.
Our sound composition is a combination of a cello base note, as well as several familiar sounds. The everyday sounds—a rotating fan, light friction of sand rubbing, the tapping of rain from the inside of the car, and a gentle whisper in your ear—evoke a sense of nostalgia, memories, or comfortable familiarity.
Together, the composition aims to create a mellow, soothing, and focused feeling to listeners to help them block out the buzz of campus or to allow them to escape for a few minutes. In addition, the composition's rhythm and repetition lets listeners fall into or out of deep thought (whichever is relaxing to them). The soft cello pizzicato that occasionally joins the composition brings back a sense of awareness to listeners.
The visuals of the installation complement and are reactive to the audio composition. The pizzicato (plucked cello note) triggers a change in the speed of the animation projected on the ceiling of the niche—which adds some depth and dimension to the installation.
The media used in this installation takes students on a meditative audio and visual getaway in a physical space they are already familiar with. Equipped with the choice of completely surrendering to the full experience, or focusing on either sound or visual, the installation aims not to be prescriptive, but rather allows users to engage with parts of the installation that appeal to them. It also taps into various dimensions of time and space—notes of sounds that trigger nostalgic memories and visuals that prompt and represent the past, the present, and the future.