Kinetic Rain – Vattendroppar in Singapore

Vattendroppar – “Water Drops” is  Sibelius’ first composition at age 9 in the year 1875, a precociously delicate chamber piece for violin and cello pizzicato.

Water, that icon and conduit of life, is a vital symbol in any art that involves nature.  I think immediately of Sibelius’ pure cold water of the Sixth Symphony.

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On 18 July 2012, Changi Airport in Singapore will official unveil the world’s largest moving art installation, Kinetic Rain.  Two clouds (sections) of 608 light-weight aluminum droplets coated in polished copper are suspended on stainless steel wires powered by precision rotors which pull each metallic globule up and down in a coordinated 15-minute metallic ballet. The result is a mesmerizing dance by the 1216 bronzed beads, whose dimensional choreography is positively symphonic.

The installation was commissioned by the Changi Airport Group as part of the renovation of Terminal 1. It was conceived by Berlin-based design firm ART+COM, which is led by the Finnish artist Jussi Ängeslevä. My mind didn’t exactly blink when I saw that. A cleverly conceived art installation, mixing intelligence and natural grace, elegance in complexity, deliberate yet spontaneous, distilling nature into a man-made construct which still emanates beauty. I think the ability to meld these elements together is a mark of some of mankind’s greatest modern artists, including Sibelius. I found it not surprising that the creative mind that led Kinetic Rain is Finnish, because the Finns seem to have a natural flair for precisely this combination, involving nature or natural-ness intimately in their art. Sibelius through the orchestra, Aalto through architecture and Ängeslevä through installation art.

You could see it as a universal display. It’s like a pixel matrix, you’re moving dots but it’s not. So you have this grid that has space in between them. It’s in physical space in that context and you have movement that in one moment is one continuous surface, for example… And then suddenly it becomes two overlapping sections, it becomes a volume. And then a few seconds later you see the individual points in space, having their individual behavior like multiple personalities that is shifting from one to the next to the next.

The words can be interpreted in many ways, I would say. It really depends on your perspective. But if you were to ask me to relate this to Sibelius (what else would this blog be for?), I would say that I am fascinated by the idea that “in one moment [it] is one continuous surface… And then suddenly it becomes two overlapping sections”. I think this applies readily to music, though not just for Sibelius. For Sibelius though, the idea of overlap and layers formed from transforming surfaces is core.  He loved primordial pedal points uplifting layers of sound all the way to the top, and sometimes his layers even moved at different speeds. It is exactly something you find in nature (the seas surf and the clouds scud at different tempi), undulating rhythms and speeds at different degrees, but all working together in harmony.


Sometimes “you see the individual points in space”, like a sunburst, a flock of swans, the woodwinds singing with the breezes. But other times they are like “multiple personalities that is shifting from one to the next to the next.” In Sibelius’ music, a single individual cell fluidly shifts and organically transforms from one form to another, and the transformation itself is the progression, the living life, of the music.  It is perhaps the very definition of  symphonic Sibelius.

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Leon is Singapore's resident champion of Jean Sibelius.

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