The inhabitants of Gideon Broshy’s ’17 “Small Worlds” weren’t as affable as one might expect. In fact, each felt like a big fish swimming about in a big sea, generally oblivious to the activities of the others. Spatially speaking, their world wasn’t large; even though Broshy cleared out the Becton Center’s Ground Café of its typical accoutrements — tables, chairs, baristas, STEM majors — the room filled up pretty quickly. Seven-channel audio circumscribed the space, pushing the participants every which way, while a claustrophobic video of travelers coursing through Grand Central seemed to climb up the walls of the café. The work’s symbolic dimension, on the other hand, was enormous: Reverberations of metropolitan hustle could be heard and felt, and whatever traces of the small town, genial aesthetic that the installation’s title might have suggested were entirely eschewed. Broshy’s dancers moved with focused independence, as they each had their own things to attend to. They weren’t living in small worlds; they were small worlds moving in an expansive universe.
Gideon Broshy is a senior double majoring in music and sociology, and “Small Worlds” is his thesis in music. In my opinion, it could satisfy either concentration. Broshy is interested in “microhistories,” the individual existences that simultaneously constitute and cut through the chaos of anonymity endemic to urban spaces like subway hubs and crowded blocks. “Small Worlds” invites the viewer into these settings and urges him or her to contemplate these hidden personal existences, to recognize and push past the pitter-patter of everyday life. Broshy’s installation doesn’t make this easy, though. The seven speakers around the perimeter of the room transmit sounds — or interpretations — of hectic urban babble: footsteps, subway cars, inarticulate voices, whooshing clothes, static scurrying and futuristic musique concrète. Unsurprisingly, these are the dominant figures of the sonic environment; in trying to follow one participant throughout the room, the collective diffusion of the entire group usurps your attention. To represent the distinct existences living beneath the surface of this cacophonous social mass, Broshy sends quotidian sounds — an alarm clock, a shower turning on and so on, culminating in the intimate vibrations of any person’s nighttime routine — through directional speakers that face the ceiling. Dozens of faces pass your gaze, and you struggle to discern individual motivation in the context of such a familiar, impersonal crowd.
As the installation progressed to its acme, Broshy’s seven-channel soundtrack started to coalesce, and the collective independence that had thus far defined the constituents slowly transformed into a dynamic, singular consciousness. All of a sudden, the audio channeled through the perimeter lost its distortion, and beautiful chords of an unremitting timbre began to fill the room. Every one of the seven speakers received a signal of a pitch-randomized saw wave; the notes changed at arbitrary moments, but they never diverged from whatever the overall sonority was at a given time. Broshy’s movers — dancers, really — followed suit, morphing into an agglomerated blob that pushed throughout the room. Like the fragile components of each harmony, the dancers still moved at their own pace, but their individual goals were subordinated to the collective effervescence of the literal mass they composed. It was a period of sublime planetary alignment. Eventually, the worlds fell back into their discrete orbits; but for a time those bodies acted as one.