In Fis

The Muziekgebouw as an instrument
- an artwork by Paulien Barbas


As soon as you realize it, you can’t help but pause for a moment. A whistling bridge, a revolving door that sets off a tone, a handrail that hums as your hand passes over it. Visitors discover In Fis as they move through the building.

The Muziekgebouw invited artist Paulien Barbas to create an artwork for its public areas. That resulted in five separate interventions in and around the building. During the process, Barbas collaborated with musicians, as well as woodworkers and metalworkers to produce a surprising environment which includes both sonic and architectural elements. By altering and emphasizing small aspects of the environment, she made sounds become perceptible, making us more aware of our surroundings. This all in musical scale F-sharp, for that is the common denominator of the various interventions.

Together the interventions tell their own story, the story of sounds that have always been there. Intensifying them allows us to hear ourselves in open space. We become part of the space. It all functions as a prelude to that which awaits us when the doors of the Concert Hall open.

Would you listen


Rest your elbows on the bridge railing, block your ears with the palms of your hands, and listen to the bridge as it is set in motion by the footsteps of visitors. Those footsteps cause the bridge to vibrate, like a string, in three dominant frequencies. These are so low that they are inaudible. Each of these frequencies expresses a ‘voice’ of its own, a higher tone whose amplitude is modelled with the existing low frequency. You hear the composite of frequencies through the hollow railing, your arms and your ears.
Revolving door

As soon as you enter the building you hear a tone. Placed on top of the revolving door is a singing glass bowl that is connected to the shaft of the door. The bowl rotates as soon as the door starts to rotate. The object is struck by a bow that slowly but surely amplifies the vessel’s sound with each consecutive rotation.

You can hold onto the wooden railing for support as you descend the main stairs. Somewhere along the way the wood is replaced by a piece of railing rendered in hollow stainless steel. The steel is roughly polished and starts to whiz softly as soon as your hand passes from the wood to the metal.

As you go up or come down the stairs, you hear the sound of your footsteps increase in a few places. Sound-emitting wooden planks are placed on five different steps of the main stairs and on the stairs to the Concert Hall. Each of the planks rests on two nodes. Beneath them is a hollow pipe that runs through the concrete stairs. When your foot touches one of the steps, the plank vibrates. The tuned hollow pipe enhances the vibration.

On the top deck you come across boxes attached to tie rods, two per rod. These sound boxes are made from hollowed out coupling nuts, just like those that connect the tie rods together. A string spans between the sound boxes and passes across two combs. If you strum them the strings will vibrate.

"Ambient noise can swamp you, but sound from a direct source, for example a footstep, can actually be illuminating and intimate. Sometimes I let the palm of my hand slide across a concrete wall or along the bannisters flanking a stairs. That produces a fleeting sensation of texture, temperature and sound. At such moments I am no longer at the mercy of the space, but involved in it. I move, and the space gives something in return.The public space at the Muziekgebouw is finished in rough materials. The sound of passing trains, the patter of rain and footsteps on the stairs all tend to blend into one humming noise. The artwork In Fis creates another perception of this space. A perception of rhythm and sound. Sounds disentangle themselves, bringing the space to life, with and by you."

—Paulien Barbas


Paulien Barbas (1981) is a visual artist. Her work is held in various collections, including Les Abattoirs, Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Toulouse (FR) and the Korea Ceramic Foundation (KR). In 2017 she won the silver prize at the Korean International Ceramic Biennale with a sound-work.

Paulien exhibits internationally and has received art commissions from various cultural institutions, including the Bauhaus Foundation Dessau. She studied at the Rietveld Academie, is an alumnus of the Rijksakademie and lives Amsterdam.


In Fis Paulien Barbas 
Design in collaboration with: Emma van Helden
Metal construction: Paul van Gerwen, Van Gerwen Metaaltechniek
Engineering Zouthavenbrug: Mark IJzerman
Alterations to steps: Wilbert de Joode and Koen Molenaar, WiKo MoJo vof
Engineering steps: Loden Rietveld
Engineering revolving door: Jaromir Mulders and Lefki Mevissen
Finish: Kevin Aerts
Photography: Paulien Barbas
Introduction text: Roos Menkhorst

In Fis was made possible by:

Special thanks to:
EKWC, Make Eindhoven, Nationaal Glasmuseum en STEIM

In addition, thanks for invaluable help and advice:
Carla Hoekendijk, Malcolm Einstein, Jim McCarthy, Ferdinand van de Berg, Erik Winkel, Maarten Hornikx, Gulliver Nice, Michiel Barbas, Chaim Achttienribbe, Lieke Maier, Winnie Mensink, Joshua Krosenbrink, Maaike van der Sluijs Veer