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How the escalator area at Disney Concert Hall became an immersive art space




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The "Nimbus" installation at Walt Disney Concert hall.
Adriana Cargill

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Yuval Sharon is a guy that pulls off the impossible. And when he talks about his latest project "Nimbus," there’s a little bit of mischief in his voice.

SHARON: Nimbus was the first project that I took on as the artist-collaborator for the LA Phil. It’s part of 3 year residency and I really want to start off with something that would be open to the public and that would be free. Looking at some of the spaces that we maybe don't consider performative and thinking about how music and visual art and performance can actually activate those spaces.

Chad Smith, the chief operating officer at the LA Phil, supports Sharon's outside-the-box approach to performance.

In order for an institution to remain healthy they have to be experimenting and they have to be innovating. It's not always easy to innovate from inside. Sometimes you need to bring in that of that radical element.

For him, that radical element is Sharon. Because he’s a guy who has a lot of respect for traditional theater and opera, but he's also known for pushing it's boundaries. His 2015 mobile opera, "Hopscotch," brought the audience out of the theatre and into cars that drove around to different corners of Los Angeles.

"Nimbus" is also in an unusual location – the escalator hallway that moves people from the parking garage into the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

SHARON: The idea started with the architecture and thinking about part of the hall that is maybe overlooked and I that escalator area is one I think of as a really beautiful feature of Frank Gehry's design but it's often overlooked.

"Nimbus" is made up of six massive photorealistic clouds. It hangs 40 feet in the air above the escalators. It’s a sound and visual art installation. The "Nimbus" soundtrack, composed by UC San Diego professor Rand Steiger, runs 12 hours in length. The music is at times abstract and at other times mimics nature. Sharon noted a piece made up of thousands of xylophones samples.

SHARON: "Xylorain" gives you a feeling of a rainstorm passing over you and because the 32 channel speakers as you’re going up the escalators. You feel like you're suddenly immersed in a in a rainstorm but it's all been created with acoustic instruments.

It is the LA Phil playing a lot of these particular segments. It's just your hearing them in a way that you never quite heard them before. You're hearing them through the clouds and electronically dispersed on your way into the concert hall.

Sharon worked with a lighting designer and artist Patrick Shearn to create the clouds. Shearn got his start making dinosaurs for "Jurassic Park" and the realistic penguin army in "Batman Returns." He worked hard to make "Nimbus" look as much as possible like a real clouds. He even sometimes had his staff listen to Steiger’s "Nimbus" music as they sculpted them.

SHEARN: The thing I enjoyed the most was being in there in the middle of the night when nobody else is around and, feeling like you’re getting away with something, doing some kind of giant prank or something. There was this kids-getting-away-with-it feeling that was really fun.

The Phil is a major player in an art world that’s pretty serious and traditional — it’s not the kinda place where you’d expect of find this whimsical interactive gigantic cloud thingy. But that’s exactly what Chad Smith, wanted when he asked Sharon to be the LA Phil’s first artist-collaborator.

SMITH: The artist collaborator’s job is to get in, get things messy push, us to our limits push us beyond our limits push us beyond our comfort level.  We have to be able to dream big. The skies the limit.

For "Nimbus," it’s actually the ceiling of hall. But for Sharon, his plans go way beyond that.

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