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NYU Abu Dhabi Student Helps Sculpt the Sound of the Emirates

Have you ever wanted to take home the soothing sounds of the desert at sunset? Package the creaks and whistles of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris after a rain? Box the acoustics of the Golden Gate Bridge? When we travel, it’s easy to snap photographs of these iconic places and hang them on the wall. Audible fingerprints, however, are much harder to take home.

Capturing sound has been the life work of international sound artist Bill Fontana, and he’s now in the UAE to bring his unique brand of digital preservation to a new generation of ears. Through Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation (ADMAF), Fontana gave a public lecture at the NYU Abu Dhabi Downtown Campus on January 15, sharing his past projects and various recording techniques. His work has taken him around the world, and he’s captured the sounds of everything from stationary temple bells in Kyoto, Japan, to the white noise of the sea in Normandy.

Commissioned by the Abu Dhabi Festival for a new work titled Desert Soundings, Fontana explained why the UAE was an appealing place to create his latest sound sculpture: "I wanted to find something here that is timeless, that was in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, before there was development… something with some kind of primal quality."

Naturally, the desert drew Fontana in; he is now preparing to gather sounds there with the help of an NYUAD senior. Accompanying Fontana for the trip is music major, Manuel Nivia (NYUAD ’14). Nivia got involved while researching for his Capstone project through ADMAF. Eventually, his recordings and music passion caught the attention of ADMAF staff and was invited to collaborate with Fontana for the upcoming Abu Dhabi Festival.

While Nivia’s Capstone project AUHDIO has to do more with organizing performances in the city of Abu Dhabi, he looks forward to the field trip with Fontana, "and learning with him about his process, how he records and how he sets up his recordings."

By learning alongside with Fontana and interacting with other students interested in sound and music, Nivia hopes to ultimately reach out to musicians in the community to vitalize the music scene in Abu Dhabi.

Nivia’s next AUHDIO event will be happening on January 23 at Café Arabia. Visit the Facebook page here to find out more. And just like Fontana’s bold experimentations in sound, Nivia promises an evening of music that will transform listeners to somewhere new.