Issue 12: EMPAC, The Future Of Multimedia
By Rebecca Lentjes
"We're always thinking in terms of scale." The words boomed out from the loudspeakers across the street from the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, on the façade of which was projected the four-story face of an astronomer being interviewed in Rosa Barba's film installation The Color Out of Space. The outdoor cinema experience had attracted a number of onlookers who stood on the sidewalk and in the grass, hands in pockets, staring up at the $350 million multi-venue arts center, a recent addition to the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor. The people in the cars passing by, between the "audience" and the film, would peer at us with perplexed expressions, oblivious to the installation: what are they all staring at so intently?
The astronomer was referring to planets and solar systems, but I couldn't help but think how applicable the words were here in Troy, NY, where kids zip down the hill towards the Hudson River on battered bicycles as RPI, extravagant and well-endowed, looms above them. At one point the second largest iron-producing city in the country, Troy is now a tired town coping with industrial decline. What should one make of such an impressive and expensive building perched atop such humdrum dreariness? The sense of scale can seem mighty lopsided.
On the other hand, the scale of EMPAC itself is so remarkably detailed and carefully engineered as to be essentially unparalleled outside of Asia. A perfect juxtaposition of art and science, the structure houses a flytower theater, the main performance hall, and two recording studios with shiftable walls that allow for anything from the driest to the most reverberant of sounds—which means musicians can incorporate a vast range of sounds both acoustic and electronic, and are never limited by space. Every aspect of the venues has been tailored to an immaculate level of acoustics, with only the clearest and most intricate music-making and listening experiences in mind.