Sonic response in 12 movements by Yuval Avital to Daniel Libeskind’s “Theatrum Mundi” (1983)

Created exclusively for the London Design Festival and the project within it, MSCTY EXPO

"Mediations on Theatrum Mundi" is Yuval Avital's 12-part sonic response to Daniel Libeskind's "Theatrum Mundi," 1983, a series of 12 abstract works (paper, collage, and paint on board) that metaphorically create a visual form that foretells the future as a city besieged by an unknown infection. The musical composition interprets the visual work as a mandala and their titles as poetic vectors.

Libeskind claims to have made the designs by combining images of the city and new senses of direction that tend to disrupt the city's moral and ethical fabric. Cities produce new phenomena, new ideas, new feelings of being. Theatrum Mundi wants to speak of a completely insignificant world as seen by the spirit of the city.

Avital describes his first connection to Libeskind's work as the accordion, for which he has written extensively, including 2 pieces for 7 accordions and a piece for 34 accordions. Many of Libeskind's architectural works reminded Avital of the gesture of the accordion bellows (opening in and out): it is a breathing lung of sound.

Inspired by an exchange with Libeskind himself about the production of the images, the artist decided to manipulate the compositions digitally, to play with them, as if they were pieces of "sound grammar of the artwork", modulating the levels of music and voice. Not only with sounds, but also with animated images to give the viewer both a visual and auditory experience. The city and its architecture are like harmony and composition, everything tries to create an ideal order which, however, sometimes does not work. Then emerges a desire for rupture, for deconstruction, all aimed at revealing a deeper and more important truth; the term Theatrum Mundi itself, a Latin expression meaning "theater of the world", is a metaphor used since antiquity and in the Middle Ages, then spread by the Baroque theater, for which the world is conceived as a show set up by God and represented by men. "It historically represents the idea of the world as a false stage that covers the truth within life," explains Avital "So, especially during this time caused by Covid-19, the crisis gave us the opportunity to open our eyes. I remember when I used to go to my studio in Milan every day, seeing the terrified eyes of the people harnessed by the mask. There was a feeling, a veil, of immediate danger."

As the artist began to read the titles of each image, he was able to fully immerse himself in this macrocosm of Theatrum Mundi and the elaborate sounds of the accordion became actual physical materials such as rivers, shadows, sand, ruins, minds. For his work, the artist was inspired by the use of compositions in terms of time and collage, using his three accordion pieces as "raw material elements", processed and digitally manipulated as "the sound grammar of the artwork", with layers of electronic sound and voice. He also thought it right (in agreement with Libeskind) to animate the images, so that the viewer can "read" them as he did, in a way that corresponds to the 12 compositions; because the vision of art and architecture is not static, but mobile and directional, even in a subtle sense.

The results are almost cinematic: layers of sound, like messages in Morse code, traveling through space and time in all directions, occasionally tuning into an accordion melody, but only momentarily. The sounds range from rhythmic pulses and beats, like a radio seeking a connection, to deep accordion base notes that communicate fear and danger. The music is eerie, with only occasional glimpses of something neat and recognizable, such as notes of birdsong or a snippet of fairground music. Composed through a series of drafts, beginning with an intuitive answer, then moving on to more detailed works, additions, and structures, there is a sense of being out of control for the viewer who is also the listener: a search for resolution and order only seconds of hope. The accordion is also perfect for this Theatrum Mundi: an instrument that springs from the lonely street corners and network of dark alleys or courtyards of a city, its color palette moving from black and white to isolated reds, or yellows, blues, oranges, and pinks. Avital doesn't expect the viewer to necessarily listen from beginning to end: “Like a building, you can move through it in different ways each time; meditate on its parts or as a whole; and revisit."




Prison Bound


Lesser fortune


The Lower Threshold


Safe-guard entering




The head




The threshold going out




Comprehend without