Alumnae Bring Sound and Light to Boston Underpass

Pamela Hersch’s new digital art installation Float, featuring music by Ella Joy Meir, livens up the Government Center parking garage in downtown Boston.

December 8, 2020

The underpass beneath the Government Center parking garage in downtown Boston might not seem like an obvious place to find artistic inspiration. But Pamela Hersch B.M. ’14 saw potential in the unloved urban space—an empty canvas on which to paint with color, light, and sound.

Her latest digital art installation, Float, located at One Congress Street at the 4.8-acre Bulfinch Crossing development, illuminates the beams and ceiling of the normally dark underpass. Featuring animal-inspired animations, vivid colors, and shifting patterns, along with music created by Hersch’s friend and frequent collaborator Ella Joy Meir B.M. ’14, the installation captures the energy of a neighborhood in the midst of a dramatic transformation.

Hersch has worked on numerous large- and small-scale projection-mapping projects over the years, but Float—a 22-projector installation (her last project had five)—is her most complex work to date. She designed a playback system that allowed for synchronization of all the content, using a media player for each projector. Each beam features content from four projectors, blended at the edges to provide a seamless image.

Image by Aram Boghosian

“You have to use blending so you don’t see where one projector ends and the other begins. The angles where the projectors are shooting are sometimes so drastic that the image would stretch and you have to compensate. It was insane but I learned so much,” Hersch said.

A native of Mexico City, Hersch came to Berklee as a piano principal. She majored in film scoring to learn to create music for visuals, but after changing her major to electronic production and design, she realized she wanted to do the opposite: visuals for music. Another factor that influenced this change was her involvement in the Berklee Interdisciplinary Arts Institute, led by Neil Leonard, the institute’s artistic director.

I understand the rhythm and the bass and how phrases work, and that helps me with the composition with a visual piece. I’m always trying to express the same feeling I get when I play piano.

Pamela Hersch B.M. ’14

“Neil exposed me to all these amazing artists, and I was so intrigued by what they were doing,” said Hersch. “We took a course that met at MIT to work on sound installations. My final project was a visual performance where the visuals were automated to react to what I was playing live.”

Though she’s mainly focused on visual art, Hersch’s work is shaped by her musical background. “I understand the rhythm and the bass and how phrases work, and that helps me with the composition with a visual piece,” she said. “I’m always trying to express the same feeling I get when I play piano.”

For Float, Hersch enlisted Meir to create the installation’s lush, ethereal soundtrack. Meir used live audio recorded at the underpass as the piece’s foundation, then added vocals, synthesizers, ocean waves, and animal sounds to evoke “urban and feral landscapes colliding in unexpected ways.”

 

Image by Aram Boghosian

“I love Pamela's visual aesthetic and the way she dissects ideas and reshapes them, transforming them into a new reality,” said Meir. “When she first approached me about Float, I was excited to try and bring my own reimagination of the idea into the project. I wanted to immerse the viewer/listener in a full-body experience, to transport them into another realm while still honoring the physical space in which the piece is shown.”

Presented by Bulfinch Crossing developers, National Real Estate Advisors, HYM Investment Group, and Isenberg Projects, Float is on view to the public now through the spring of 2021. It follows a five-month installation by Peter “Zebbler” Berdovskuy, an assistant professor in Berklee’s Electronic Production and Design Department.

For the full experience, visitors can listen to Meir’s piece while viewing Hersch’s artwork by following QR codes located on site. For more information, visit bulfinchcrossingprojections.com.

Listen to “Float” by Ella Joy Meir: 

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