Ever since its completion last year, the Shanghai Tower has been the second tallest building on earth -- just behind the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Soon it will have another accolade to its name. The 2,073 feet (632 meter) tall tower is opening the highest art space in the world. Located on the 126th floor of this 128-story building, it will feature an immersive auditory experience designed to serenade visitors to Shanghai. Grammy-winning composer and producer Simon Franglen, who is behind famous theme songs from Hollywood blockbusters "Avatar" and "Titanic", was commissioned to create the symphony that will play in this venue.
Top of the world
So why a symphony for a skyscraper? The inspiration, it seems, was the view. "I have been at the top of many of the big buildings in the world, and this is something different," Franglen tells CNN. "(It is truly) like something from another world." From the top of the twisted tower, visitors have panoramic views of Shanghai, including its historic Bund waterfront area.
Before starting work, the composer was asked to meet the directors at the tower, and explain his vision. "The way they were talking about the building and how the space works reminded me very much of the meridians and energy flows in acupuncture. I mentioned this, and I think that was part of the reason why they decided I understood what they were trying to do," he says.
A day in Shanghai
After a walk in Shanghai Park, Franglen composed a piece based on a day in the city that also reflects the aesthetics of the tower. "Shanghai ... is a city for the 22nd century," he says. "It feels 100 years ahead of everywhere else in the world. "When you look at the skyscraper, it doesn't look like any other skyscraper in the world. It looks like it grows from the ground, rather than being stamped on the ground like many skyscrapers do. I wanted to write a piece of music that felt like it grew."
Franglen's symphony begins with bird song Franglen heard in the park, followed by the sound of the city waking up, with car horns, people rushing, and even an occasional bleep from a cell phone. This is followed by the sound of a river -- "I needed something that could flow through the piece of music" -- as well as of the tower's construction. It closes with sounds inspired by sunset.
Listening to Franglen's piece will be an all-consuming experience thanks to the 260 loudspeakers he has had installed in the space. "They're above you, they're below you, they're everywhere," he says. "If I want to put (the sound of) a bell in front of your face, I can -- because we're using a unique sound system that allows me to put music in free space," he says, referring to the unusual aural experience created by strategic loudspeaker placement.
"The sounds spin around in the space," he adds. "What I've done is written a piece of music that allows you to walk around inside it." The music was performed by four orchestras, comprising 240 players, and features a 48 voice-strong choir, 60 drums and 55 bells. The four orchestral parts interlock in a complex manner.
"One section of the orchestra would play one set of the notes, another set would play another -- and they would play against each other, so that they're almost competing in the three-dimensional space." Franglen says different versions of the piece, varying in length, will be played in the space throughout the year. A six to seven minute-long version will be played to new visitors, to give them a sense of the experience, while a 20-minute composition is also in place for special events. The space will also feature a viewing gallery, where the building's tuned mass damper -- which stablizes the tower, and is normally hidden out of sight -- can be seen.
Franglen calls the symphonic suite "one of the most exciting projects" he has ever worked on. The opening date of the art space and ticket prices are yet to be announced, but it is intended to be the heart of cultural happenings in the tower. "I hope that in the future other places build these types of installations and will realize culture is really important," he says. "The work Shanghai Tower is trying to do, which is to think more than just in terms of commerce, is really special."