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Symbiosis of Sight + Sound

For those of us living in cloudy locales like Cleveland, planetariums are meant to show us the beauty of the night sky we rarely get to see.

On Feb. 23, the planetarium at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History projected a deep-sea explorer, ancient Eastern paintings, and two young lovers up onto its dome.

These images, among others, were part of “360 degrees of Sight + Sound, the Planetarium Project at CMNH.” The Project was the product of a collaboration between CMNH and University Circle students.

In 2010, CMNH upgraded the Nathan and Fannye Shafran Planetarium with the newest SkySkan projection systems. This technology allows guests to go on virtual tours of the universe, zooming by planets and distant galaxies. SkySkan also made the planetarium capable of showing 360-degree films on the dome, which made the museum staff anxious to utilize this exciting new feature.

Around the same time, Keith Fitch and Steven Mark Kohn at the Cleveland Institute of Music were requiring their students to collaborate with artists outside of their institution. They looked across the way to Cleveland Institute of Art professors Kasumi and Amanda Almon, and a partnership was forged.

CMNH worked with CIM students in 2008 to create short musical pieces for the museum’s iPod audio tours, and has invited CIA students to design displays for the museum in the past, so when pondering how to promote their new planetarium technology, teaming up with these students was an obvious choice.

The evening of Thursday, Feb. 23, five short films created by CIA students and scored by CIM students premiered at CMNH.

The first, titled “Planequarium,” was created by Bill Garvey and Lucas Strakowski, of CIA and CIM respectively. “Planequarium” presents experiences that might be had by a deep-sea explorer, with some background noises like the “bloop” of a stone being dropped into water, and much of the dome covered in undulating blue hues.

The second film, “Conflux,” was jarringly different. Tami Lis of CIA and Fabio Pires of CIM created an anticipatory vibe with red flame-like shapes flicking across the dome and anxious chimes ringing throughout the piece.

Following was “Flow,” which started with a star field created by Romero Smith and accented by UFO-esque static from Jesse Limbacher. This piece was intended to be a visualization of sounds, with 3-D boxes warping into helixes whose color shifted from blue to green and white to purple. There was motion in all directions of the dome which paired well with electronic-type music accentuated by the occasional sounds of a rainmaker.

“Their Ghosts Remain between the Pages” was a hand-drawn animation inspired by a 1940s photograph. Michaela Lynch created the film narrative extrapolating what went on between the people in the photo, beyond the photo’s edges. The music composed by Christopher Zajac was deep and thoughtful as viewers were taken on journeys with the couple in the film.

The show’s final piece was “The Shadow is Ripening,” a colorful, fractal film by Vanessa Jeric. The main visual was a kaleidoscope-like pattern with pictures of what appeared to be a Buddah, the whole dome swirling and zooming along with a technical guitar riff. The music by Matt Smith was distinct from the visuals of the film, yet brought a raw energy to the show. At times, if the viewer focused on the center of the kaleidoscope image, it felt like you were moving through space instead of sitting comfortably in one of the planetarium seats.

Each film was completely unique from the others, and the roughly 30-minute show had something for every viewer to enjoy. The “360 degrees of Sight + Sound” show is now a part of the CMNH Planetarium’s regular programming schedule.

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