Hear the Tintinnabulation of the Bells
December 6, 2007 7:15 AM   Subscribe

Public sound sculptures can be beautiful ways of drawing passersby into creating music. Whether they're melodic chimes in subway stations, theremins in public parks, or the sounds of rivers and clocks in a art museum, all of them can add a little bit of magic to the everyday world. Paul Matisse is an artist who has created multiple public sound sculptures across the Boston Area. He built three sound sculptures in the Kendall Square subway station in Boston, and another in Charlestown, called the Charlestown Bells.

One Bostonian lamented the struggle to maintain public sound sculptures, kickstarted efforts to sponsor their repair, and drew a response from Matisse himself.

Not everybody appreciates public sound sculptures;
The Musical Fence, originally installed in Cambridge, was relocated to the DeCordova Sculpture Park and a museum in Vermont after people kept playing it at all hours of the night.

A few other public sound sculptures are:
Gun Holstrom's "Omphalomin"creates sound through optical sensors in a Helsinki park.

Bill Fontana's "Primal Soundings" brings the sounds of the River Aire and the sounds of a clock bell tower to the Leeds City Art Gallery and the Victoria Garden.
posted by canine epigram (22 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, great post! I have fond memories of getting off at Kendall Square for fun, playing with the pieces and getting back on the train on my way to Harvard Square. What's really nice about these pieces in particular is the viscerality of the pieces; they're powered using cranks and levers, and you actually have to pull pretty hard to create a sound.
posted by suedehead at 7:31 AM on December 6, 2007

The Kendall Square station? I thought for sure this was going to address the tubes hanging from the ceiling at the Alewife station. They look like they should be chimes, but they are too separated to hit each other and in any case the wind from the trains doesn't seem to move them.

Are they "just" art or is there some function?
posted by DU at 7:32 AM on December 6, 2007

(Also, I totally have to get off at Kendall next time I'm in Boston to try these out.)
posted by DU at 7:33 AM on December 6, 2007

hey, your "Omphalomin" link is not working! :(

Two additional Boston-area musical sculptures I adore are the audiokinetic sculpture in the lobby of the Museum of Science (George Rhoads' Archimedean Excogitation) and the Musical Staircase in the museum, which never seems to be working the last few times I've been inside.
posted by mkb at 7:33 AM on December 6, 2007

Also also: A sorely-needed picture of said sculpture.
posted by DU at 7:35 AM on December 6, 2007

Anybody who's ever been at the Kendall Square station while hungover curses that man, even if they don't know his name.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:45 AM on December 6, 2007

OK, last comment for a while I PROMISE: Looks like the Alewife sticks are neon tubes? I've never seen them on, but maybe they only do it at night--there's a bigass skylight right there that could drown them out.
posted by DU at 7:45 AM on December 6, 2007

DU, are these the ones hanging over the track? I think that's probably the neon sculpture "End of the Red Line" which hasn't been lit for some time, sadly. It's the big weak link of public art that requires maintenance - funding and repair.

Thanks for the photo link.

mkb, thanks! I emailed the mods. Here's the Omphalomin.

I have many fond childhood memories of that MoS staircase!
posted by canine epigram at 7:47 AM on December 6, 2007

Seventh Street Station in Charlotte NC has brightly colored panels that make different musical sounds if you smack them. There was also some kind of puzzle involved with it as the link explains. I remember some of the panels eventually stopped working. It was done by this Christopher Janney fellow.
posted by marxchivist at 7:47 AM on December 6, 2007

If nothing else, Sound Garden by Jim Hollis is notable for being the only musical sculpture that had a Seattle grunge band named after it.
posted by jonp72 at 7:53 AM on December 6, 2007

excellent post
posted by caddis at 7:54 AM on December 6, 2007

It's the big weak link of public art that requires maintenance - funding and repair.

It seems like they would set up funds (like treasury bonds or whatever) to pay for that at the same time they commission the piece.
posted by DU at 7:57 AM on December 6, 2007

I LOVE the Kendall crank/bell/thing!
posted by fermezporte at 8:05 AM on December 6, 2007

These sculptures are great when they're working. Unfortunately, they're very attractive items for drunk college students to whale away on. They were always missing handles when they were first installed.
I always liked to drop the hammer on the ring...
crank crank crank BONG!

posted by kuujjuarapik at 8:06 AM on December 6, 2007

[this is good] for us locals, at least. Thanks!
posted by blahblahblah at 8:10 AM on December 6, 2007

Funny, I always understood that the locals hated that Kendall installation. I'm not on the Red Line enough to care much, but I like playing with them when I'm at Kendall.

We should have a meetup to play with the installation.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:21 AM on December 6, 2007

Cool post. I love all kinds of kinetic and/or sound art.

There's a wonderful Rube Goldberg music sculpture in Port Authority Bus Terminal here in NYC that makes melodious gongs, bings, chimes and clanks as balls roll around on slides, skid through shoots, and drop into buckets. It adds another dimension, a wonder to the otherwise not especially likable place. The artist has an eponysterical name for a sculpture at a bus station, George Rhoads.

Related, the Sea Organ.
posted by nickyskye at 8:28 AM on December 6, 2007

Max Neuhaus' Times Square. Video here.
posted by unknowncommand at 9:58 AM on December 6, 2007

And The Cloud Harp, music.
posted by nickyskye at 10:19 AM on December 6, 2007

The neon tunnel at O'Hare (youtube video)

Valerie Otani's Torii( scroll down, since it's the last stop) at the Portland Expo Center Max station.
Tri-Met's description doesn't mention the sound of the tags in the breezes generated by the moving trains: it's the most haunting part of the installation.
posted by pernoctalian at 12:33 PM on December 6, 2007

Nickyskye beat me to it but here's a link to the sea organ.
posted by nofundy at 12:54 PM on December 6, 2007

Great posts. More good stuff: Hear Color, See Sound, a Metropolis feature on Christopher Janney and his work.

And many more spatial-sonic goodies over at the Future of Sound website.
posted by diastematic at 4:44 PM on December 6, 2007

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