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Behind the Scenes

Designers from Juxtaposition Arts Bring New Life to the Hall's Cubes

A graphic with multi-colored boxes with traditional Chinese patterning, floating against a black background.

Perhaps the most distinctive aspects of Orchestra Hall’s design are the 114 acoustical cubes that cover the walls and ceilings. During the Orchestra’s signature Young People’s Concerts, the cubes often display text, colors and images that correspond with the music being played onstage, offering our youngest audiences another way of experiencing concerts. The Orchestra’s upcoming student- and family-friendly Winter Wonderland program taking place January 25 to 29 will give the cubes brand-new life, as designers from Juxtaposition Arts (JXTA) project their original animations onto the cubes.

Since 1995, JXTA has mentored young artists in North Minneapolis, providing professional apprenticeships and the tools to realize ambitious art and design projects—from iconic murals at the IDS Center to unique branding for local businesses. For their most recent collaboration with the Minnesota Orchestra, designers Egypt Brown, George Emdin and Essence Enwere worked closely with JXTA’s graphic design lab lead Taylan De Johnette and lab lead assistant Ethan Nevalainen to create graphics accompanying selections from Sergei Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé and Li Huanzhi’s Spring Festival. Last summer, the team carried out a site visit with Michael Murnane, the Orchestra’s lighting director, through which they studied the contours of the unconventional surfaces they’d be working with.

After selecting the musical pieces they would design for, the team got to work, says De Johnette:

We had apprentices first start by creating a word bank associated with the tone of both songs. Once apprentices had a grasp on how they want to visually and aesthetically communicate the moods of the songs, we moved into phase two.”

This second phase involved establishing a visual language through mood-boarding, followed with storyboarding and, finally, applying movement to these graphics.

George Emdin first learned about his love and aptitude for drawing at just eight years old when attending a neighborhood summer program. Beginning by illustrating comic books, he would later start his “journey into graphic design, from using a pencil and paper to computers and digital artwork.” Creating animations for Orchestra Hall brought a new set of questions:

The concept of it was always familiar, but trying to leave my comfort zone from general sketch thumbnails to just making the artwork was definitely a challenge.”

The process of “detailed storyboarding” was also a challenge for Enwere—a mixed media digital artist “not afraid to combine found objects and texture within my digital works”—who points to the importance of “grinding and pushing your own thought processes to places that are unexpected and making sure you fully understand your own thoughts and can explain it to others.”

The design team grinded and pushed their way to a truly unique set of visuals. Because the Winter Wonderland program focuses on sharing winter traditions from around the world, so too do the animations. The Orchestra will perform a selection from Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijé that depicts a troika, a traditional Russian horse-drawn sleigh; during the piece, wrapped gift boxes will dangle from the ceiling, opening and closing with the upbeat music. Similarly, when the ensemble performs the opening movement of Li’s Spring Festival—a suite that celebrates the Lunar New Year—the cubes will be transformed with traditional Chinese patterning and tassels.

Speaking to the potential of these non-traditional collaborations to bring new dimensions to the classical concert hall, Mitra Sadeghpour, the Orchestra’s director of education and community engagement, said:

It is important to us that we partner with artists, and youth artists in particular, to explore the intersection of different art forms and how one can amplify the other.”

For his part, Emdin notes how this project has inspired him to dive further into animation. “Learning After Effects and how to combine the static graphics from Adobe Illustrator to a moving artistic form is something that has always intrigued me, from watching cartoons on Saturday mornings to making my own animations with fractals in programs like Apophysis,” he adds. “Eventually I plan on animating logos that I have been working on in my spare time to test my skills and learn something new.”

Enwere has big plans of her own, as she has recently thrown herself into a mixed media photography and design project called Midway. “Inspired by impressionist paintings, landscape photography, Western paintings, Ray Gun typography, and my own understanding of feeling at home in the spaces between the hustle and bustle of our world, Midway for me is a baby I’ve been developing for several months,” she says. “It’s about creating a story and art that brings you nostalgia in the mundane, in-betweens and midway of life.”

For the time being, don’t miss these Winter Wonderland animations in action!