TRAVEL: Touring Smithsonian’s Sant Ocean Hall with Bluebrain
by Couch Sessions
Bluebrains’ Track Sends Visitors Underwater at the Sant
Last Saturday, I walked into the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, a spacious hall with high ceilings, buzzing with the chaos of out-of-towners toting fanny packs, that unshakable tourist accessory that somehow neva goes outta style (sigh). As I entered, the metal detectors and gift shop unintentionally gave the museum a shopping mall feel (read: corny n’ kitschy). A little boy near me cried out, “Look, Mom! It’s Dum Dum!” referring to the prized Easter Island statue whose name ironically means ‘stolen of hidden friend,’ best known for its cameo in the Ben Stiller flick, Night at the Museum. My suspicions were immediately confirmed that most of these dum dums just want to relive the cinematic adventure. I mean, the info plaques even mark the artifacts featured in the film! So much for integrity, I guess?
But, as I make my way up to the first floor to check out the Sant Ocean Hall, I plug in my earphones for the sonic journey Bluebrain is about to take me on. The reason I’ve come: less than two weeks ago, the DC-based music and photography collective Bluebrain launched a free MP3 download of the ‘audio companion’ they created for the Museum of Natural History’s newly restored, 23,000 square foot hall. And as a former surfer chick, music composed with the ocean in mind def sparks my curiosity. The Sant is the largest exhibition hall in the entire museum and was renovated in fall 2008 to its century-old grandiosity after a century of mixed use. If you have yet to visit the Hall since its reopening, Bluebrain’s ‘Deeper Than Light,’ a 17-minute track of pure oceanic, ambient sound, is enough reason to reconsider a visit.
The Bluebrain folks advised the track’s length might exceed your visit, but I found the opposite to be true. Because the music achieved such perfect synergy with the Ocean Hall, I lingered among Indian families of 15 and Midwesterners crowded around the aquarium longer than I could have bared without the sanctuary of my headphones. In fact, after about four minutes of playing my sidekick, I caught my mum slouched on a bench looking downright exhausted and fed-up. Meanwhile, I tranquilly explored the hall for the duration of the track and then some. When the blue sounds faded out, I let mum have a listen. “Ah yes! I see why it was different for you!” she said. “It’s like being underwater. In the ocean!” Co-sign, mama.
If you go, be prepared to LOOK. UP. In addition to a 50-foot reproduction of a North Atlantic right whale spanning the middle of the exhibit, and a 40-foot squid embalmed for our viewing, you’ll be engulfed by 360-degree panoramic underwater views in looped rotations above. Bluebrains’ music cloud will only further enhance your experience. With its seamless transitions and intuitive, non-rhythmic noises, you might easily find yourself in a dream-like state, submerged in water. Before you know it, you’ll be staring aimlessly at the 3-D globe that explains why our planet needs water (Bomani’s lyrics, “yo body needs water! So drink that sh*t!” briefly comes to mind).
Two more reasons to swing by the museum: it’s a respite from DC’s oppressive heat during this summers’ Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which features my fellow yellows–Asian Pacific Americans: Local Lives, Global Ties is the 2010 theme–and both are free dollas! Go ‘head and say it… Only FREE dollas?! ‘Deeper Than Light’ is available for download on Bluebrain’s website (click here) all summer. The verdict: don’t sleep on this one, dum dum.