Seeing 'Signal' at the Rudolfinum

Smetana & Dvorak Under The Lights

The Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra and conductor Jan Kučera. Photo credit: Dušan Vondra.
The Rudolfinum's Dvořák Hall. Photo credit: Dušan Vondra.

For anyone not familiar with Prague’s Signal Festival of Lights, the idea is to project computer-generated images onto public spaces, usually historic buildings, with the idea both of entertaining and educating. The artists, or programmers, have a full range of expressive tools at their disposal – light, sound, color, text, imagery, anything a computer can do – to weave intricate visual and aural narratives.

The best of these, like the original 2010 video mapping of Prague’s Old Town Hall (on the occasion of the 600th anniversary of the Astronomical Clock), are simply revelatory. They play on a building’s unique architecture, history, and in the case of the Astronomical Clock, its mystery too. If you’ve never seen this particular video mapping, check out the YouTube video here.

The Rudolfinum's Dvořák Hall. Photo credit: Dušan Vondra.
The Rudolfinum's Dvořák Hall. Photo credit: Dušan Vondra.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy pairing visual imagery with classical music. I often find myself closing my eyes during classical concerts to focus better on the music. I was afraid I’d forget the lights -- or, on the other side, be so entranced by them I’d scarcely hear the sounds.

I didn’t need to worry. The organizers, in conjunction with the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, made the wise decision of choosing pretty but relatively undemanding – for a Czech audience – musical selections, like parts of Bedřich Smetana’s “Vltava” symphony and Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 (The New World Symphony). These are pieces I know well after living here (and that any Czech will know by heart). The effect was to free the audience to follow the lights.

And follow the lights I did. Once we sailed through the opening Vltava symphony and entered the second musical selection, my initial resistance had melted. As the second piece got going, and the lights got progressively wilder and wilder, I was hooked. (I can still see in my mind the images above the orchestra of what appeared to be giant smoke rings sailing off into infinity – like you’d imagine after a tab of LSD). It’s fair to say it lent a dimension to the music I’d never experienced.

Here’s a short video clip of the performance, but it doesn’t begin to capture the trippiness of the event.

The Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra and conductor Jan Kučera. Photo credit: Dušan Vondra.
The house was packed and people seemed to love the show. Photo credit: Dušan Vondra.

The Rudolfinum performance is called SIM/NEBULA and was prepared in collaboration with 11 artists from six different countries under the supervision of Amar Mulabegovič and the "Macula" studio. According to the organizers, the performance has something to do with “man’s relationship with his inner world on one side and the universe on the other side.”

Whatever they’re going for, it works.

My hope, now, is the Signal organizers will hold these concerts more than once a year (as is the case, I believe), and that the energy created here carries over into the annual Signal Festival of Lights later in the autumn. That festival – in recent years – feels like it’s lost a little something of its luster, and I’m really looking forward now to seeing what they have up their sleeves.


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About the author

Mark Baker

I’m an independent journalist and travel writer who’s lived in Central Europe for more than two decades. I love the history, literature, culture, and mystery of this often-overlooked corner of Europe, and I make my living writing articles and guidebooks about the region. Much of what I write eventually finds its way into commercial print or digital outlets, but a lot of it does not.

That's my aim with this travel website: to find a space for stories and experiences that fall outside the publishing mainstream.

You’ll find a mix of stories here. Some will be familiar “what to see and do” travel articles on particular destinations. Others will be tales of “adventure” (usually with a comic twist) from life on the road. I'll also share tips about living in my adopted hometown of Prague and stories from a more-distant (but seemingly ever-present) past, when Central Europe was the “Eastern bloc” and I was a full-time journalist trying my best to cover it. I hope you enjoy.

Tales of Travel & Adventure in Central Europe
Mark Baker