In a public square in Mesa, Arizona, people can create music – using nothing but their own shadows. Responsible for the interactive installation is Montréal art collective Daily Tous Les Jours, who aim at breaking up the anonymity in public spaces with means of shared experiences and play.

If you take a stroll across the north entry plaza of Mesa Arts Center in Mesa, Arizona, there’s a good chance you will come across people behaving funny – running around in circles, waving their arms, chasing their shadows.

The square has been fitted with an interactive pavement that can react to the shadows of passers-by by playing singing voices.

Inspired by Arizona’s sunshine, Canadian art collective Daily Tous Les Jours has created yet another surprising but undoubtedly fascinating urban installation. The piece consists of light sensors and small speakers embedded in a geometric arrangement of concrete tiles in blue and pink, placed flush to the concrete plaza surface.

The custom tiles in the pavement play singing voices when shadows are cast upon them. Shadows cast on different tiles trigger different voices and sounds. With different shadow lengths based on season, time of day, and weather; a large variety of sounds can be produced.

People standing on the singing tiles in Mesa
The interactive pavement plays singing voices.

Inspiration from the sun

The sounds themselves also change with the angle of the sun, allowing for dynamic experiences throughout the day. As visitors explore this space and the different soundscapes their shadows create, they become part of a collective sound and body performance. “Creating opportunities for conversation and collaboration among strangers, this project allows people to bump up against each other in ways they may not have done normally,” says Mouna Andraos, co-founder of Daily Tous Les Jours.

Working with a natural resource, like the sun, can be challenging. The interface of the project was designed to account for variations in sunlight. This helped to ensure that the installation remained interesting and that people could continue to interact with it on a daily basis.

Different sounds and moods were created to play throughout the day. “Morning sounds are peaceful,” explains Andraos. “Midday, they become shorter, rhythmic and energetic; nearing sunset allows for complementary, interlocking melodies; and after dark creates a natural landscape with nocturnal meadow-like sounds.” Designed for different levels of engagement, the space offers something for people on their own, or in large groups. “Through varieties of interaction, the project really comes to life.”

People enjoying the singing pavement in Mesa
The musical tiles encourage interaction and collaboration.

Community engagement

One of the reasons for the success of the installation commissioned by Artplace America and the City of Mesa is the inclusion of the public during the concept phase: Daily Tous Les Jours conducted on-site research, defined objectives and developed a prototype of a public artwork to be located on the north plaza of Mesa Arts Center.

To help develop the conceptual design, the firm conducted three public workshops to collect feedback, ideas, and recommendations. The meetings were attended by about 60 local community members and architecture students from the Arizona State University. Installation of the final product was accomplished in March 2016.

Designing with sound

Sound is a central theme in the work of Daily Tous Les Jours, as the Musical Shadows of Mesa remind us of their earlier project 21 Swings  – a public space installation consisting of 21 swing sets, each playing its own set of notes. When used at the same time, the swings create a musical composition in which melodies can emerge through cooperation.

As a collective instrument, the installation shows how together we achieve better things than individually. The project successfully brought passers-by of all ages and backgrounds together, creating a place for playing and connecting within the city center.

Activating an unused public space in the collective’s hometown of Montréal, the project turned out to be a success that went viral across the world.

Through these public installations, Daily Tous Les Jours hopes that people will become more aware of their urban environments. “People tend to care more for their urban environment and start imagining further possibilities for their cities,” Andraos points out. “People begin to realize that there is an asset in public space that is worth developing.” By contributing to the livelihood of the MAC, this project hopes to inspire similar initiatives throughout the area; contributing to the overall revitalization of Mesa.

Mesa Musical Shadows from Daily tous les jours on Vimeo.

Mouna Andraos is the co-founder of Daily Tous Les Jours. Considering technology as a vehicle for social change, her work is geared towards demystifying and disseminating technology. Daily Tous Les Jours focuses on collective experiences in public spaces; enabling change, stimulating engagement between strangers, and creating strong bonds between citizens and their environment. For more information visit the website, or follow them on Facebook or Twitter.