As a followup to my favorite topic, sonic trash, I thought I’d write about something unexpected: There is some sound on the street that you should seek out before the season comes to an end. That’s right, sound on the street you won’t hate! This year, the holiday window installations of three big department stores in Midtown Manhattan have included sonic with their offerings.
The city is crowded and especially packed with tourists and their families seeking to bask in the glow of the Rockefeller tree, shop, and get in the spirit of things. This makes for an even higher baseline of noise and competing sounds, but hear me out. You’d think that this would make any music emanating from above store windows very annoying or indiscernible at best. Case in point, the sound above the window display at Harry Winston (an ethereal, floating, generic Christmas soundtrack), while not particularly connected to the experience as a whole, was so different than the sounds of the environment that it pulled me in from across the street. Before I knew it, I was staring longingly at the diamonds in the windows of the storefront.
Now and Then
Let’s get something straight. I am not setting out to do a critique of these windows. They are all awesome and represent best-in-class window design, hands-down. However, the ones that really stood apart to me, the grumpy sound guy, are those that use sound in a way that drew us in.
Barneys New York leads the pack with their Baz Dazzled wonderland, a collaboration between writer/director/producer Baz Luhrmann and designer Catherine Martin (The Great Gatsby, Moulin Rouge). We should expect no less the full-on spectacle from these two. What struck me in particular about this experience, though, is that it is fully immersive for the passer-by. The bar has been set! No longer is sound outside a storefront just a subtle impression of what’s going on behind the glass. It is what’s going on behind the glass. Without the sound and music, it would be a beautiful abstract but with it, you are led on an emotional journey.
A beautiful and compelling visual transported beyond by a great musical soundtrack:
In this excerpt, a ‘steam-punk’ owl reads poetry. ‘True Owl’ by Chris Cole:
Next up is Macy’s, of course! By the way, they set the standard way back around the turn of the century (the 20th century, for all you Millenials out there) when plate glass first became widely available. This allowed them to construct large windows, in some cases, the length of the entire store. It didn’t take long for all the retailers nearby to realize the importance of window displays.
The holidays became a time for a special theme in these windows and evolution grew from then… to now:
This year each window frame is another mini-chapter in the full story of a little boy who goes on a fantastical Christmas voyage through his telescope. Again, it’s fully immersive as with the Barneys exhibit, but more Disney-like in character. There’s even an interactive component as kids can interact with a touch-screen game in the lower part of one of the windows.
Granted, I was out there seeking sounds for this article, so maybe you’ll have a different take on this, but I thought they were delightful! I love this time of year in New York City (unless I’m on the train at rush hour from Midtown… very different story for a very different article) because it is transformed by twinkly lights, sparkling reflections, a cheery, curious, demeanor and… new sounds! There is so much awesomeness emanating from these windows that I was distracted from the hideous sounds of sirens, honks, loud trucks, garbage cans, et al. I hardly even noticed them as the sonic trash sank into the background.
When out shopping and surveying the streets this holiday, remember to pay close attention to the spectacle of sound that these artists have pulled off so masterfully in their window displays. The emotional connection they forge with the future customer can be largely attributed, at this particularly festive time of year, with their indispensable sound tracks. Let us know any of your favorite window displays in the comments below or on Twitter.