Volkswagen Magazine


the art of sound.

Volkswagen pioneers new perspectives for the art world. The current Björk exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art shows how the brand’s technological expertise can open up new ways for the artist’s creative multimedia expression in the proccess.

Text Jochen Förster
Photos Inez and Vinoodh, Courtesy of Wellhart/ One Little Indian (2)

In the beginning there was the app. “Sound Journey”, in this case, a mobile application developed by Volkswagen that provides drivers with a personalised music experience, because the “Sound Journey” music adapts to the respective driving situation. Following a four-month collaboration in developing the project, there are now hundreds of borrowable iPods at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), which enable visitors to the ongoing Björk show to experience a completely new dimension to an exhibition viewing – based on a “Sound Journey” audio tour.


Until 6 June 2015, the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan is showing a retrospective of the Icelandic pop icon Björk’s most innovative projects – including videos, original instruments and costumes.

This isn’t just some random success story. It is the first time in the company’s history that Volkswagen technicians have made this type of integral contribution to an art show at what’s arguably the most important museum for contemporary art in the world today. The underlying thought is as simple as it is obvious – particularly if it is centred around a multimedia trendsetter such as the Icelandic artist Björk. On one side, a car brand that has long been systematically researching how software can improve our daily lives while on the move at its Electronics Research Lab (ERL) in Silicon Valley. On the other side, a female artist who has been exploring the reciprocal influences of pushing musical boundaries, digital aesthetics and the possibilities of technical representation like no other since her “Debut” album in 1993. In 2011 she also set new industry standards when she published “Biophilia” as a series of ten song apps for the iPad. The users were able to rearrange substantial parts of the album themselves, among other things.

The impetus for the current cooperation came from the arts. When MoMA approached ERL to enquire whether there might be some innovations from California that could be used for the Björk exhibition, ERL specialist Tina Unterländer offered an immediate peek at the “Sound Journey” app – the team had just developed it for use with the new MIB2 infotainment system.
For the last seventeen years, ERL’s approximately 150 employees have been researching applications, interfaces and assistance systems for future-orientated mobility. “The idea behind ‘Sound Journey’ was based on the desire to provide our customers with a type of comprehensive multimedia driving experience,” says Unterländer.

Around 150 employees at Electronics Research Lab conduct research on assistance systems, interfaces and infotainment apps.

The MoMA colleagues’ enthusiasm was instantaneous. Together with the sound specialists from the Klangerfinder company in Stuttgart, the Volkswagen technicians adapted the software’s potential to suit the requirements of the musician from the land of geysers. While “Sound Journey” permits factors like speed and revs, braking or accelerating to flow into the (specially composed) music, thus creating a customized sound for any situation, MoMA uses the digital intelligence for the exhibition tour. Depending on which room a visitor happens to be in, in which direction they are looking, or how fast they are moving, the soundtrack with new music, soundscapes and lyrics personally provided by Björk adapts accordingly. The result: everyone has their own Björk audio experience; a sound event is coordinated with each type and pace of situation possible at the exhibit.

Sound Journey

The app was developed by Electronics Research Lab (ERL), a company in Silicon Valley owned by Volkswagen AG. Thus far, the new Passat and new Polo are being equipped with it. It provides a sound experience that is tailored to factors such as the car’s speed, revs and handling.

» Promoting international art and culture is one of the core aims of our social commitment. «

Benita von Maltzahn, Head of the “Culture and Society” Department at Volkswagen Corporate Communications.

The collaboration between Volkswagen technicians and the MoMA team headed by Director Klaus Biesenbach is the most recent highlight of the Wolfsburg Group’s international commitment to the arts, which began with a resounding success in 2011 when Volkswagen of America and the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA) first teamed up. In the meantime, both partners can look back at the last four years with pride: more than 2,000 students from over 60 countries have attended the jointly developed online courses. In addition, the Volkswagen Performance Dome allows the successful MoMA offshoot PS1 in the borough of Queens to hold its Sunday Sessions – a weekly cultural programme featuring performances, videos, music, dance and discussions – in the winter months, as well.


The MoMA offshoot PS1 holds its Sunday Sessions in the Volkswagen Performance Dome.

“Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963–2010”, (photo, above) can be viewed at Cologne’s Museum Ludwig until 5 July 2015.

Volkswagen and MoMA: a perfect pair. The museum, founded in 1929 and arguably the most important contemporary art museum in the world for decades, embodies cultural thought and appeals like no other to all sections of the population just like the appeal cultivated by Volkswagen with its brand culture. “The educational aspect is an important criterion in all our art cooperations. Promoting international art and culture is one of the core aims of our social commitment,” says Benita von Maltzahn, Head of the “Culture and Society” Department at Volkswagen Corporate Communications. A particular exhibition highlight thus far is “Alibis: Sigmar Polke 1963–2010”, the first comprehensive retrospective of the German artist who died five years ago and is considered one of the most influential artists of his generation. The inspiring work of the native son of Silesia (now Poland) spans all countries and social classes, tastes and conventions to stand alongside his multimedia diversity, which together form the focus of a show currently exhibiting (until 5 July) at Cologne’s Museum Ludwig.

In addition to MoMA, the collaboration with the Neue Nationalgalerie (Berlin) has become a sparkling mainstay in the Volkswagen commitment to culture. When the German electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk gave eight guest concerts at the Mies van der Rohe-designed building in January, staging each of their albums in 3-D, the advance tickets were sold out within days. A further high point was last year’s first comprehensive collection of works by the impressionist sculptor Rembrandt Bugatti (1884–1916). The work of the Italian, who ranks as one of the most notable and original sculptors of the early 20th century, can be seen in several major museums around the world, and is valued at millions in the art market, but today he has been largely forgotten by a significant portion of the art-viewing public. At least until this particular exhibition.

Diversity and accessible art – they are aspects that are ideally suited to the form of art appreciation fostered by the Volkswagen Group’s corporate culture. “Other companies collect art or create it themselves,” says Benita von Maltzahn. “Above all, we primarily support art that reaches a broad spectrum of the population in all its diversity and serves as an impetus to the creative activities of others.” Among other things, more active involvement in China’s art and culture is planned for the coming years.


In 1970 Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider founded the band, which is considered one of the pioneers of electro pop. The eight concerts performed in Berlin’s Mies-van-der-Rohe-Bau in January were sold out within a few days.

The Neue Nationalgalerie showed the first comprehensive exhibition of the works of sculptor Rembrandt Bugatti in 2014.