Up Late: A Conversation with Merche Blasco

On July 21, as part of Friends of the High Line's first-ever Up Late event on the High Line, we're inviting visitors to roam the park after-hours and be transported as dancers, musicians, and visual artists illuminate the park with participatory performances, installations, and a world of hidden surprises.

Leading up to the event, we'll be sitting down with each artist contributing to the Up Late line-up to discuss what makes this event so unique—and why people shouldn't miss it. Be sure to check back here for more exclusive Q&As with Up Late artists.

Photo taken by David Rehor at North Mountain Residency

Interdisciplinary artist and composer Merche Blasco is known for creating participatory sound performances in unique public spaces, and of course the High Line is no exception. Last year, Blasco blew us away with her remarkable performance HONK 210Hz. For this performance on the High Line, Blasco wants Up Late visitors to help her literally illuminate the gardens of the park through her one-of-a-kind, participatory piece "Sonic Bloom", which blends both light and sound to create the ultimate interactive experience.

Tell us a little bit about what you have planned for Up Late. What do you want attendees to take away from your performance/work?

I'll be installing a grid of light sensors among the plants in an especially dense part of the High Line gardens. During the nighttime performance, I'll distribute flashlights to participants and just invite them to explore. The flashlights trigger the hidden sensors, which in turn generate an orchestra of sounds I've composed for the performance in the North Mountain Residency. So by exploring the landscape, participants will find themselves collaboratively creating a soundscape. I'm hoping people will enjoy navigating this familiar location in a new way. And I'm hoping they will have fun creating a spontaneous sound piece together – just by pointing with their flashlights.

What makes the High Line a venue that's unique or challenging to your work?

I have always been fascinated by the architecture of the High Line and the relationship it establishes with the city below. Last year I made a site-specific piece for the High Line's outdoor auditorium at 17th Street [the 10th Avenue Square and Overlook,] where a giant window overlooks the traffic. I was amazed to find how such a typical New York street spectacle was transformed just by being framed. I found also that the filtration of sound coming up from below lent the scene a different character. There are lots of spots like this all over the High Line, where ramps or tunnels or corners create unexpected visuals as well as aural ways of experiencing the city. You find these different "micro­soundscapes," but always with the greater city as a backdrop. So in this sense there are all sorts of interesting possibilities for dialogue.

How does your work speak to the New York community?

I don't think it is an accident that here in New York is where I first began experimenting with participatory sound performances. When I arrived I was taken aback by how much public space there is here but simultaneously how un-public it often feels – in the sense of how strictly regulated the public's access can be. And the truth is that with our heads bowed over our phones all the time it is difficult to imagine a sense of community arising spontaneously in any public space. So I wanted to start making pieces that would give us the experience of owning those spaces again as a community.

It is a great advantage for these types of projects that organizations like Friends of the High Line and Make Music NY help artists like me connect with a broader audience outside the usual art circuit. And in return, I've found New Yorkers to be very open to experimenting with new things and collaborating with each other in unfamiliar ways.

From a sound perspective, I have come to use these participatory experiences as a new methodology for composing. I engineer some elements for a composition in advance, but how it unfolds and what the final piece will sound like totally depends on the participants. It is something that I can never predict and that I really enjoy witnessing.

Come see Blasco, among many other artists who will be lighting up the night, on Thursday, July 21 on the High Line from Gansevoort to West 18th Streets from 10:00 PM to 12:00 AM.

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