The Empire State Building Becomes an Art Installation

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A new lighting system adds motion to the tradition of the "Tower Lights."

Phillips recently gave a large gift to the Empire State Building: a dynamic LED system that would allow the iconic skyscraper's spire to add movement to its "Tower Lights" illumination scheme. The system -- full name: Philips Color Kinetics -- was put to tentative use earlier this month, on election night, when CNN used it to display electoral college results through light-bound meters.

Last night, though, the system was unleashed in an "official unveiling," and used for a far more wonderful, if far less practical, purpose: music. Well, music and awesomeness. At 9 p.m. EST (Empire State Time), Alicia Keys began a concert -- a performance of her songs "Girl on Fire" and "Empire State of Mind" -- that was accompanied by a series of kinetic light displays. Think a fireworks show, with the illumination in question coming not from controlled explosions, but from controlled LEDs. Think an art installation, with overtly commercial impulses. 

Here's more on the tech behind the performance, from a Phillips press release

The state-of-the-art dynamic lighting system from PCK is unique to ESB and allows customized light capabilities from a palette of over 16 million colors in limitless combinations along with effects previously not possible such as ripples, cross-fades, sparkles, chasers, sweeps, strobes and bursts. In addition to greater control and management of the lighting, the new computerized system will deliver superior light and vibrancy levels in real-time, unlike the previous floodlights.

As the lights moved last night, viewers could tune to local radio programs to hear the songs they were responding to. And even those who weren't listening could still witness a new spin on the old "Tower light" tradition. While the typical colors of the Empire State spire are meant to commemorate a past event -- or, in the case of 2012's election night, to record a current one -- this was technology that was put to use for entertainment's sake alone. It took the most mundane thing there is in a city -- a building -- and transformed it into a canvas for light and music and, just maybe, art. 


Via Gawker.

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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