Monday, February 21, 2005

The Sound of Sculpture

(Photo from the site)
The first real sound sculpture I can remember running into was in the Forest of Dean. Melissa's Swing was one of the first pieces on the sculpture trail there and comprised a swing with wind chimes above. As you sat in the swing, you activated the very gentle chimes and it made you more aware of the forest sounds around you. Slick.
The next was in the Museum of Science in Boston. Soundstair, a set of steps leading to the mezzanine at one end, were rigged with electronic beams that triggered sounds as people passed through them. Of course, kids were racing up and down creating the most glorious symphonies and slightly annoyed adults were experimenting with jazz-like juxtapositions of notes, like veritable Thelonius Monks in training... I understand it was first installed on the Spanish Steps in Rome. It would be interesting to see what opera afficianados would do with the set up
Today I ran across an announcement of an exhibit about visual music at the MOCA in LA. Of course the work is heavily electronic, but the whole idea of synesthesia (senses stimulating each other) got me thinking about the two pieces I had experienced were there others?
Were there others? Holy rodents, Batman! There is a whole field of sound sculpture I didn't know about! And I'm in love again.
A guy called Harry Partch wrote in 1967, "I believe devoutly that this speciality [music] must become less specialized for the sake of its own survival." and that seemed to spark the field.
There are lots of ways to do sound sculpture. Many involve the windchime effect. Some, like The Kendall Band in Cambridge, involve viewer participation. And sometime before I die I'd love to sit on one of Douglas Hollis' Listening Chairs. They use a parabolic effect at the sitter's ear level to amplify ambient sound and surround you with the experience of it. Obviously, I would not like to sit in one placed in Times Square or at an offshore drilling site, but on the beach, in a forest, in a zendo- there's a dream of heaven!
There have been so many experiments with sound in sculpture that it requires more than a blog to explore them all. There are some very good sites on the web that explore the issue further, like Ars Electronica's
I love this explanation of the genre from
"While music seems to activate a space in an abstract manner, sculpture creates a palpably present but static and unresponsive space. Sound artists attempt to create environments as a sculptor might, but which are animated with sound."
More to come as this lvoe affair continues...
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  1. Hello,
    I just happened upon your blog and it's proven to be quite interesting. I run a garden statue website at and I have some deals you may find interesting this spring. I will return often to your blog and check out your new posts. Good luck and keep it going!


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