‹ Sonic Innovations

Undercurrent (2020)

Spencer Topel and Hana Kassem

Undercurrent is a piece that is never experienced the same way twice, rhythmically evolving according to the passage of individuals through it. It taps into the emotive, creating a feedback loop between people and their environment. A communal orchestration is built up through the movement of visitors via the activation of small pods among the grasses and trees, which come alive with sound and a soft pulsing light leading people along sixth paths to the epicenter of the garden. With an increase in the number of people passing through, comes the layering of sounds from various pods and varying distances from each other. They terminate in a crescendo at the point of the paths’ juncture, but one that is overtaken by the piece’s focal point: the tone of a subterranean void harnessing its energy.

Undercurrent Construction


Spencer Topel

Artist Website

Spencer Topel is an American artist combining sound, installation, and performance. His practice is often characterized as an exploration between sculpture and musical instruments, expressed in a variety of works ranging from site-specific installations to performance art pieces. At the heart of this inquiry is the notion that objects have their own unique voice, and the task of the artist is to reveal and amplify this quality.

Topel’s current and past projects with international arts and performing arts institutions include: Museum of Modern Art, NY; The Los Angeles Philharmonic, LA; The Barnes Foundation, PA; The Juilliard School; Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, NY; Drawing Center NY, The Estonian Music Days, Tallin; The Arts Club of Chicago; DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park Boston, LiteraturHaus, CPH; The Huddersfield Festival, UK; the Arts and Ideas Festival, New Haven; and the Proctor Academy, New Hampshire. His work has been performed by celebrated ensembles that include the Minnesota Orchestra, the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble, the Oregon Symphony, the Juilliard Symphony, Ensemble Third Sound, and the FLUX Quartet.

Educated in music composition at The Juilliard School and Cornell University, Topel later joined the faculty at Dartmouth College as a professor of music. There he collaborated with sculptor Soo Sunny Park on several projects including Capturing Resonance for the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park.

Collaboration is a central part of Topel’s practice, which led to the formation of Physical Synthesis Inc. in 2019. Notable collaborations continue with architect and artist Hana Kassem, artist and cellist Seth Parker Woods, and composer Christian Wolff.

Most recently, Topel was Artist-in-Residence at The Yale Quantum Institute, where he and his collaborators developed the first-ever musical synthesizer using the building blocks of quantum computers.

Hana Kassem

Artist Website

Hana Kassem, is an artist and architect with more than 20 years of experience in the field of architecture and design. As a Principal at KPF, she has lead the design of a variety of academic, research, cultural, transportation, hospitality, and commercial mixed use projects across the globe – with current work in Brazil, USA, France, the Philippines and China.

Her guiding philosophy is that design is human-centric, multi-sensorial, and experiential, and that design has the ability to enhance well-being – defined as physical, cognitive and emotional – creating dynamic experiences and stimulating environments. Some of the notable projects she has led with her colleagues include, the Red Hook Houses Resiliency and Recovery project for NYCHA awarded an American Institute of Architects (AIA) Urban Design Merit Award, as well as the CUNY Advanced Science Research Center in NYC, a LEED Gold building at the forefront of sustainability that was awarded the AIA NYS Excelsior Award. Of note as well, is the FIU Business School in Miami awarded the valued Chicago Athaneum Award.

A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), with degrees in both Fine Arts and in Architecture, Kassem’s work has always entailed a cross-disciplinary approach to space-making and fine arts, straddling both fields. She is trained as a musician since early childhood and includes sound as a raw material for the conceptualization of space in her work. Recently, her Installation Art collaborations with artist Spencer Topel have fostered a synthesis of this approach with her multi-dimensional perceptions of space.

Kassem currently serves as a member of the Van Alen Institute’s Board of Trustees as well as the AIANY Board of Trustees as Director for Design Excellence. She serves as an adjunct faculty member at Parsons, formulating studio topics that focus on experiential engagement with our environment, Wellness, and Resiliency within approaches that address marginalized communities. Hana is co-editor of a book entitled Architect d.b.a | On Re-defining the Roles of the Architect Today.


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