Nina Young looking up dramatically at a blue beam of light o a dark stage.

Nothing is not borrowed, in song and shattered light 

Nina C. Young

Continuing her work with EMPAC's Wave Field Synthesis Array, Nina C. Young will be in residence to develop and finalize her EMPAC-commissioned multimedia work. Nothing is not borrowed, in song and shattered light is a ritualistic installation-performance of fragmented Renaissance polyphony, spatial audio, projections, and hanging brass instrument sculptures that creates ephemeral architectural spaces using overhead wave field synthesis and recordings of performance and improvisations by American Brass Quintet. The work is rooted in the legacy of the relationship between architecture and antiphonal music practices. The residency culminates in the premiere of a new work on April 21, 2022 in the theater.

Main Image: Nina C. Young, The Glow That Illuminates, The Glare That Obscures. Courtesy the artist.

three square speakers on a pedestals


Lesley Flanigan

Continuing her exploration into the sculptural potential of sound, Lesley Flanigan presents a performance for voice, speakers, electronic tone, and the resonance between.

This EMPAC-commission marks a shift in Flanigan’s approach to her work. Rather than performing live, her voice exists within a cluster of small wooden speakers that act as a choral ensemble staged in the center of the room. In contrast to this ensemble of speakers, large full-range loudspeakers are positioned in the four corners of Studio 2, wrapping the space in a moving wash of pure electronic tone. Inside the installation, the audience will experience a series of compositions that act as a meditation on how we listen, and on how that listening encounters electronic tone, the physical qualities of amplification, and the fragility of voice.


This performance is being presented for campus audiences (faculty, staff, students of Rensselaer) only at this time. Attendance is limited so please register early.

Main Image: Photo: Lesley Flanigan.

wave field synthesis system

Concert in Wave Fields

Miya Masaoka, Bora Yoon, Nina Young, and Pamela Z

In this concert the audience will walk through "wave fields." Wave Field Synthesis is a special way of creating sounds in space. The EMPAC Wave Field Synthesis system (EMPACwave) is a unique loudspeaker set-up with hundreds of speakers that was developed and built at Rensselaer over the past several years. While Wave Field Synthesis technology is not new, the design of EMPAC’s array is acknowledged by international experts to finally allow musicians to create music to the refined degree that has been promised by this theory of sound generation for over four decades.

Four works specifically composed for EMPACwave by Miya Masaoka, Bora Yoon, Nina Young, and Pamela Z premiered last August at Time:Spans festival but covid-protocol meant these new works could not presented at EMPAC concurrently. Concert in Wave Fields is now presented for our campus community to experience the potential of EMPACwave’s 200+ speakers through the music of four acclaimed American composers, none of which had previously had the opportunity to work with such an instrument.  

The composers Miya Masaoka, Bora YoonNina Young, and Pamela Z created four very different pieces and their works inaugurate an ongoing program of commissions for EMPACwave at Rensselaer.


This concert is being presented in person for campus audiences (faculty, staff, students of Rensselaer) only. In-person attendance is limited so please register early. 

Main Image: Wave Field Synthesis system (EMPACwave) in Studio 1. Photo: EMPAC/Rensselaer.

a black man with a grey beard reaching out toward the camera.

Work-in-Progress: PROPHET


This work-in-progress performance is a culmination of two development residencies of 7NMS's multi-year live performance project, PROPHET. The project's residencies at EMPAC explores spatial audio, mobile set elements, and moving-image content. 

Main Image: PROPHET, 2021. Photo: Marc Winston / @m62photography. 

a black man with a grey beard reaching out toward the camera.



7NMS is at EMPAC for the first of two ten-day development residencies that will culminate in a performance of the company's multi-year live performance project, PROPHET, in fall 2022. For this first residency, the company will explore spatial audio, mobile set elements, and moving-image content for their project. 

Rounded triangular geometric shapes in muted primary colors mounted on to a white ceiling with rounding lights in between.

Tuning Calder’s Clouds

Acoustics, Architecture, Art, and Music of Venezuela's iconic Aula Magna

Tuning Calder’s Clouds is a series of interdisciplinary conversations with experts from acoustics, art, architecture, and music that explores the historic and contemporary resonances of the Aula Magna—the iconic hall at the heart of the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas—in which Alexander Calder’s Acoustic Ceiling (1953) is suspended. 

The bilingual publication, Tuning Calder’s Clouds, edited by Vic Brooks and Dr. Jennifer Burris, will be published in fall 2022 in a collaboration between EMPAC at Rensselaer, the Calder Foundation, and Athénée Press. It is the first book to explore the artistic, technological, and political intersections of Alexander Calder’s sculptural Acoustic Ceiling and includes contributions by Inés Arango Guingue, Dr. Lisa Blackmore,  Jonas Braasch, Mirtru Escalona-Mijares, María Fernanda Jaua, Johannes Goebel, Carlos Gómez de Llarena, Sylvia Hernández de Lasala, Dr. Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti,  Aimon Mata, Ana Navas, Rafael Pereira Escalona, Dr. Juan Pérez Hernández,  Alexander S.C. Rower, Gryphon Rue, and Rafael Santana.
Cuando los nubes eran las olas / When the clouds were waves by Ana Navas and Mirtru Escalona-Mijares engages these complex legacies in the production of a new work currently in development in EMPAC’s Concert Hall and created for the Acoustic Ceiling at Aula Magna.

Main Image: Alexander Calder’s Acoustic Ceiling (1953) in the Aula Magna, Universidad Central de Venezuela in Caracas. Photo: Vic Brooks/EMPAC.

anais duplan

Blackspace Radio

Anaïs Duplan

Artist and poet Anaïs Duplan presents a series of five radio shows broadcast weekly on Rensselaer’s WRPI Troy 91.5FM and produced at EMPAC. Based on his recent book of essays, Blackspace: On the Poetics of an Afrofuture  (Black Ocean, 2020), the broadcasts entwine histories of liberation movements, labor struggles, criticism, and poetry with music, soundtracks, field recordings, and Foley sound. 

Duplan takes us on a journey that follows his lyrical exploration of the political potential of aesthetic experiences, spanning from the quotidian encounter of a bakery’s smell to the transformative reckoning with an artwork. These experiences are viewed through the prism of how other artists of color are working with media technologies on their own terms to seek “liberatory possibility” through specifically aesthetic means. 

Guided by Duplan’s voice, each broadcast employs “ekphrastic” methods—vivid verbal descriptions of the actions of artworks—as well as the sensory potential of Foley sound to produce a richly evocative auditory experience. The dialogue is interwoven with audio samples from films and videos by artists such as Ephraim Asili, Deanna Bowen, Tony Cokes, Leah Franklin Gilliam, Ulysses Jenkins, and Sondra Perry, TV and movie soundtracks, and an extensive range of music from Liz Mputu, Juliana Huxtable, Perfume Genius, Actress, Mal Devisa, and Hieroglyphic Being and more. 

Blackspace will be broadcast on New York's Montez Press Radio in 2022. 

Main Image: Anaïs Duplan. Courtesy the artist. Photo Ben Krusling.

a view of the concert hall looking from the choir loft across to the balcony. a shiny black steinway grand on the stage. a fabric ceiling extends above like the sails of a ship.

Concert Hall Acoustics: From Flying Saucers to Fabric Sails

Jonas Braasch and Johannes Goebel

A conversation on the inventive acoustic ceiling designs of the Aula Magna at Central University of Venezuela, Caracas and EMPAC’s Concert Hall at Rensselaer.

In the early 1950s, the American sculptor Alexander Calder collaborated with acoustic engineering team Bolt Beranek & Newman and Venezuelan architect Carlos Raúl Villanueva on the design of an extraordinary new sculptural approach to the acoustic treatment of an auditorium. Villanueva’s iconic Aula Magna in Caracas was thus the first instance of acoustic panels suspended across the ceiling of a hall of this scale to reflect optimal acoustics. Another first shapes the exceptional sound of EMPAC’s Concert Hall: the innovative design of a fabric ceiling that spans the full-length of the hall.

The installation of Calder’s Acoustic Ceiling (1953), locally known as “nubes” (clouds) or “platillos voladores” (flying saucers), produced an acoustic environment that prompted the Aula Magna to be ranked in the top five concert halls in the world by renowned architectural acoustician Leo Beranek (1914–2016), whose professional library was presented to Rensselaer by the engineer himself in 2010.

Jonas Braasch, professor of acoustics in Rensselaer’s School of Architecture and EMPAC’s founding Director Johannes Goebel, who was deeply involved with EMPAC’s acoustic design, will have a conversation about the most important and often least discussed element of a concert hall: the ceiling.

This talk is the second in a series of interdisciplinary conversations with experts from acoustics, art, architecture, and music that will explore the historic and contemporary resonances of the iconic Venezuelan hall. EMPAC’s Senior Curator for time-based visual art, Vic Brooks, is working on a major research, commissioning, and publication project on Calder’s Acoustic Ceiling at the Aula Magna, which creates interdisciplinary connections between the visual and the auditory, between art, science, and engineering.

Tuning Calder’s Clouds, edited by Vic Brooks and Jennifer Burris, will be published in fall 2022 in a collaboration between EMPAC at Rensselaer, the Calder Foundation, and Athénée Press. It is the first book to explore the artistic, technological, and political intersections of Alexander Calder’s sculptural Acoustic Ceiling and includes contributions by Dr. Lisa Blackmore, Sylvia Hernández de Lasala, María Fernanda Jaua, Dr. Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti, Rafael Pereira Escalona, Dr. Juan Pérez Hernández, Jonas Braasch, Johannes Goebel, Aimon Mata, Alexander S.C. Rower, Rafael Santana, Gryphon Rue, Ana Navas, and Mirtru Escalona-Mijares.

Cuando los nubes eran las olas (When the clouds were waves) by Ana Navas and Mirtru Escalona-Mijares engages these complex legacies in the production of a new work currently in development in EMPAC’s Concert Hall and created for the Acoustic Ceiling at Aula Magna.


This talk is being presented simultaneously in person for Rensselaer faculty, staff, and students and streamed online for the general public. In-person attendance is limited so please register early. Registration is required for both physical and virtual attendance.

Main Image: EMPAC's Concert Hall as viewed from the choir loft. Photo: Paúl Rivera.


When the Clouds Were Waves: Ana Navas in conversation with Vic Brooks. December 2020

Lisa Blackmore & Jennifer Burris' talk, Ideological Entanglements and Political Fictions: Art and Architecture in Venezuela. December 8, 2021.

A sketch of a grand piano with a person curled up underneath it.

Paper Pianos

Mary Kouyoumdjian and Nigel Maister with Alarm Will Sound and Kevork Mourad

Paper Pianos​ is an evening-length theatrical work co-directed by Armenian-American composer Mary Kouyoumdjian, and South African-American director Nigel Maister. Performed by contemporary ensemble Alarm Will Sound, the work explores the dislocation, longing, and optimism of refugees. Combining the spoken narratives of four refugees and resettlement workers with the intricate hand-drawn animations of Syrian visual artist Kevork Mourad, Paper Pianos vividly depicts the dramatic emotional landscape of displacement and resettlement experienced by refugees throughout the world.

During a time when the media is saturated with sensationalist news images surrounding the refugee crisis, this piece instead highlights four human voices: the Afghan pianist Milad Yousufi, Getachew Bashir (Ethiopia), Hani Ali (Somalia), and Akil Aljaysh (Iraq); creating a space for the audience to experience empathy. Milad Yousufi fled to New York from Kabul, where he lived under the Taliban’s threat for pursuing music. His story of painting piano keys on paper to teach himself to play in silence, thus avoiding life-threatening censure from the authorities, gives the piece its name. Getachew Bashir, a high-ranking judge in Ethiopia, left his country when the judiciary and his independence threatened to become co-opted by the regime. Hani Ali was a child of the refugee experience, born on the run and coming of age as a young girl negotiating the terrors of being stateless in a displacement camp. Akil Aljaysh—from a prominent family—fled Iraq after being tortured, and worked his way through Syria and Lebanon to the US.

Kouyoumdjian’s score uses these recorded testimonies as integral compositional elements, and draws on folk-music and contemporary-music practices. She says: “I come from refugee parents forced to immigrate to the U.S. as a consequence of the Lebanese Civil War. And my parents come from refugee parents forced to escape to Lebanon from Turkey during the Armenian genocide of 1915. Experiences like Milad Yousufi’s resonate with me, and topics of wartime, genocide, and one’s relationship to ‘home’ have played a large role in my music.” Kevork Mourad’s extraordinary hand drawings animate the narrative, evoke the journeys of the participants, and serve as a physical element with which Alarm Will Sound’s musicians interact.

EMPAC has commissioned Alarm Will Sound’s staged performance of Paper Pianos and will provide the artists with multiple production residencies to develop the visual and theatrical elements. The work will premiere here at EMPAC in our 400-seat proscenium theater—a venue that incorporates theatrical technology and capabilities previously found only in the most advanced stage spectacles. As quiet as a recording studio with the infrastructure of an HD video studio, the low stage and superb acoustics allows for tangible proximity between audience and performers.

Paper Pianos​ is a vivid, compelling and evocative contemplation of global issues expressed through individual stories of loss and transcendence. The live performance of narrative, music, theatricality and visual gesture engages audiences viscerally in one of the pressing problems of today’s world, distilled down to the heartfelt immediacy of real-life experience.

Main Image: Paper Pianos. Image: Kevork Mourad.


Spotlight on Paper Pianos

for people looking at the camera through a huge cave opening, sita benga.

A Slightly Curving Place

Nida Ghouse

Curator Nida Ghouse is in residence in Studio 1—Goodman to adapt and expand the multi-authored ambisonic audio play central to the exhibition A Slightly Curving Place. Previously commissioned and presented by Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, the project responds to Umashankar Manthravadi’s practice as a self-taught acoustic archaeologist that proposes possibilities for listening to the past and its absence which remains. The audio play brings together writers, choreographers, composers, actors, dancers, musicians, field recordists and sound, light, and graphic designers who engage and transform not just each other’s work, but also that of many others.

This next iteration of the exhibition will be presented at Concrete in Dubai in March 2022 and is co-produced by EMPAC at Rensselaer and Alserkal Arts Foundation.

Main Image: Sita Benga, 26–29 February 2020. Members of the project team (right to left): Tyler Friedman, Sukanta Majumdar, Umashankar Manthravadi, and Nida Ghouse. Photo: Alexander Keefe.