Turning the decks of the parking structure that cuts across Maynard Street into a serene waterfall or transforming the structure into a framework for an elaborate rock sculpture or even the torso of a brontosaurus are just a few of the ideas for the artwork that will grace the north face of the parking garage.

Among these ideas thrown out by students is the final one — a harp-shaped arrangement of alternating LED and aluminum tubes that will respond to sound by forming patterns of colored light.

The proposed artwork — which its designers call soundfall — would react to changes of pitch in sound input from an interactive square on the sidewalk on the east side of the street. Pedestrians could influence the soundfall by talking, singing or making any kind of noise into a weatherproof microphone located at the square. The soundfall would display an overlapping, fluid array of colored bars along the LED tubes — ranging from 18 to 36 feet in length — in response to the input of multiple pitches simultaneously.

The soundfall is the culmination of a two-year project in the School of Art and Design to conceive and plan a work of public art for display in Ann Arbor.

The soundfall plan was unveiled Friday at a presentation in the Michigan Theater of two proposals to receive grants under the state’s Cool Cities initiative. Gov. Jennifer Granholm launched Cool Cities last year to make Michigan’s cities more attractive places for college graduates to work and live.

The soundfall was presented by students from the School of Art and Design, the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and the College of Engineering. They developed the idea in a class that has been offered since Fall 2003. Students said the display would bring revenue to the city because it would attract visitors who would shop in businesses in the area. They are considering staging an event to present the soundfall to the public. One audience member said the soundfall could serve as a venue at which musical acts could play — with the benefit of a pre-programmed digital light show to complement their performance.

The software that will dictate the specific manner in which the soundfall will respond to different pitches is currently being designed. The project has the benefit of adaptability — the software can be reprogrammed at any time to change the display according to the operator’s wishes.

The other proposal was for three lounges in the Michigan Theater that would accommodate seating and screens for microcinema — low-budget films shot with digital cameras, edited on computers and distributed digitally. The lounges would be located in the main lobby, the screening room lobby and the mezzanine.

Michigan Theater CEO Russell Collins proposed that the films would play continuously while the lounges were open. He said the theater may open earlier to make the lounges more available to customers, who would not have to pay to watch the films for at least the first year of the program.

As a service to the microcinema patrons, the theater would provide free wireless Internet, though some concerns were raised Friday that this would attract more users than the theater could accommodate — many of whom might only visit the theater to use the Internet. Wireless Internet is currently offered at just a few campus locations — including Espresso Royale, the Michigan Union and Rendezvous Cafe.

The films’ audio would either be provided through built-in speakers or wireless headphones.

Collins said the advanced technology involved in microcinema enhances the viewing experience. “The image experience is remarkable” for high-definition digital film, he said.

Collins also said the microcinema lounges would provide an opportunity for local filmmakers to find an audience for their work.

“The majority of the product would be produced regionally,” he said.

Collins said he was undeterred by worries that free movies and the Internet might spur a flood of demand and undermine the theater’s revenue from films that require paid admission.

“Dealing with excessive success is a problem I hope I have to deal with,” he said.

The Cool Cities Taskforce, appointed by the Ann Arbor City Council, will be submitting the two proposals to the state at the end of next week. The taskforce is applying for $200,000 in grant money to cover the cost of both projects.

Art and Design lecturer Bill Burgard, who taught the class that developed the soundfall, said the State Street Area Association will go forward with the public art regardless of whether the city receives a grant for the project.

The taskforce is soliciting public feedback on the proposals at elbaratta@comcast.net until the April 29 deadline for the submission of the grant applications. The state will announce the recipients of Cool Cities grants on June 24.

The taskforce decided on the soundfall and the microcinema lounges after considering about 14 proposals.

In the first year of the Cool Cities initiative, Ann Arbor did not submit a grant proposal but supported Ypsilanti’s application for a $100,000 grant to expand the Riverside Arts Center, which it received last June.

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