justin macdonnell

On July 15, 2005, Charles Recher and myself received a commission from Miami Performing Arts Center (MPAC) for the creation of a collaborative intermedia work “meant to be a historic event for the city of Miami performed on a global stage” — Justin MacDonnel, Artistic Director, MPAC

Cars and Fish was to be a 45-minute video, sound, and performance together with a 3-hour integrated video-sound installation and architectural lighting designed by us to be presented on the external walls and within the Plaza of the Arts at MPAC on December 2nd, 2005, as part of Art Basel Miami. Those four and a half months became an exciting challenge and a monumental undertaking i could only imagine tackling with Charles

As proposed, the elements of Cars and Fish where: a 3-hour-long video, architectural lighting and soundscape installation presented on the external walls and within the Plaza of the Arts of the Miami Performing Arts Center, and a 45 minute performance element on Biscayne Boulevard (between the buildings) that included live musicians, a robotic TV, a remote-controlled school of fish, stilt performers with projected images, and a hypersonic flock

cars & fish during the performance


Technically speaking, Charles produced content and designed a projection scheme that consisted of six 25,000 lumen projectors, three per side that covered with light every inch of the facade of both, the concert hall and the opera house buildings facing Biscayne Boulevard.  The images moved naturally and perpetually counterclockwise mimicking hurricanes.  From the overpass that connects the two buildings over Biscayne and were i was stationed, the images looked overwhelming to the point were at times i was forgetting what i was doing there. So many stories can be told about the video content that may merit their own blog.  I’ll tell the one briefly about the fish — my favorite.  To record the fish swimming perpetually in one direction, Charles constructed a double circular fishtank (like the letter “o”) that contained hundreds of fish.  To learn more, visit Charles Recher‘s website

cars & fish during the preparations



I organized the sound system thinking of it as two sets of 5.1 surround sound, each on a semicircle pointing toward each other, all mounted on the second floor platform along the overpass. With the aid of three computers i was able to move sound around in a circle, to play one side against the other in a stereo field fashion, and to localize a single sound in one of the ten source points defined by the location of the speakers.  Armed with a top of the line sound system, i would have been able to fill the whole space (the size of two football fields) with sound by simply turning up the volume.  But my strategy included an acoustical study of the plaza conducted in August of 2005 which consisted of a microphone suspended from a large helium balloon used to fish for natural resonances in that architectural space. I didn’t have a camera with me that day, but i’m sure people took pictures from their cars as they drove by — if you did and still have it, please post one on our Facebook page. With the information gathered, i was able to process the sounds i’d be using beforehand in my studio so that certain important frequency components would match the acoustics in that huge space.

Of the hundreds of sounds i used for Cars & Fish, one of the most unique was the sound of what i recently learn to be a toadfish which i recorded on Biscayne Bay while testing a hydrophone that David Dunn had brought with him during his first visit to Miami.  I never knew what fish in the bay made that sound until recently. I heard a report on WLRN Radio (Under The Sun) featuring Dr.R. Grant Gilmore, a marine biologist that studies fish for the sounds they make.  I contacted him through Dan Gretch and he replied, “Your recording is of a toadfish call, but not the Atlantic toadfish, Opsanus tau, that has a single syllable call, nor the Gult toadfish, O. beta, that has a double syllable call.  Yours has three syllables with a short burp before the series.  The short burp is produced every once in a while by the other toadfish.  I will have to compare this carefully with my inventory of toadfish sounds and get one of my colleagues who specializes in toadfish vocalization to examine it.” i still don’t know the specific type of toadfish in my recording, but as an artist i’m glad to know it is a toadfish.  Dr. Gilmore went on to add, “I recorded a multi-syllable toadfish near Little Torch Key and Big Pine 15 years ago and believe it was the first call of this type recorded.”

Here is what my recording sounds like:

Sample Audio:
Toadfish Call recorded by Gustavo Matamoros, September 2005

Since i just gave you a pick at one of the fish sounds, you might be wondering about the cars … and notice that in contrast to the documentation video soundtrack posted here and throughout the web, i am showing you my preference … the subtle:

Sample Audio:

Another was the sound of a pleasure cruise ship departing the port of Miami.  The photo is a still from the video.  Both the sound and the video were recorded at different times.

Sample Audio:
Cruise Ship Horn recorded by Gustavo Matamoros, October 2005

Cars and Fish made front page news in the Miami Herald, Saturday morning after the event:


On her MySpace blog, Fin posted:



“You’re looking at the side of the Miami Performing Arts Center, under construction …, as a band plays under the direction of Gustavo Matamoros and video is projected on the wall facing Biscayne Boulevard.” — Franklin Einspruch, Artblog.net


History and Documentation

letter of recommendation from Justin Macdonnell, former Artistic Director Carnival Center for the Performing Arts | August 9, 2007 | PDF

carnival center-adrianne arsht center press release | PDF

Coverage: plugged art collective, miami art exchange, miami art guide, miami new times, facebook, bizbash