Continuing from my 2017 sound sculpture Migaloo’s Song (Cooper, G. 2017) I intend to design and build a large-scale sound sculpture music box, with a pre-sequenced progression of chimes that will be entered into the 2018 Swell Sculpture Festival on the Gold Coast. The sculpture will be based on coral formations, creating a large moving kinetic man-made coral piece out of steel, mirrors and succulent plant life called ‘Poseidon’s Music Box’.
I will take design cues from both coral and succulent formations and integrate the music box parts into the design. The whole sculpture will be silver, black and contain some surfaces covered in mirrors and succulent plants, helping to blend the man-made and natural elements in the sculpture. The whole structure will be powered by solar renewable energy to turn the music-box and light the structure at night time.
The piece of music generated from the sculpture will be relaxing in contrast to the social noise and chatter of the approximately 15,000 patrons visiting the Swell Sculpture Festival every day in September.
As I progress with my sculpture work, I am setting myself up with a profile of kinetic sound sculptures and geometric design work based on mathematical and patterns found in nature. My previous work ‘Migaloo’s Song’ was based on the Fibonacci Sequence with a series of circles and the song was composed to mimic and coincide to the humpback whale songs. This coral formation sculpture is based on regular quadrilaterals (squares), the rhombus, dihedral groups and will following the design cues from both coral formations, microbial life and succulent plant life.
(my sculpture concept video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jG60R8_QZY)
My interest in the construction of musical instruments has always been based on the physics of sound and acoustics and my interest in sculpting and ‘Sound Sculpture’ has been developed through my collection of music boxes and Leonardo DaVinci inspired machines over the years. I see the concept of moving towards sculpture and sound sculpture more of an addition from my music career, rather than a new field. I am not overly interested in simply creating sculptures, but more so incorporating music composition, music technology and acoustics into sculpture.
Rather than simply creating sonic environments, my interests are in musical elements and scores to be integrated into the sculptures using my background in acoustics, physics and as a musician, composer and producer.
The connection with natural elements and environmental activism is also important to me, mimicking and taking cues from nature in design and recreating these repeating patterns in my design, while attempting to enact some change and awareness in the audience in relation to the environment.
Overall the sculpture has a few aspects, but the integration of sound sculpture work in the form of a playing musical score, powered by renewable energy approaches the topic from the basis of an environmental statement against coal mining and directly how it is affecting our great barrier reef. Bringing the coral bleaching issue to the audience and making a bold connection between the coal mining in Australia.
The sculpture will be powered by recycled renewable solar energy, showing some solutions available to solve our energy crisis and avoid the reef system being killed by the use of fossil fuels and in turn climate change. In direct response to our government’s statements that renewable energy is noisy and ugly, I will also be showing that a renewable energy device can be aesthetically beautiful, fitting into the landscape down by the beach at Currumbin on the Gold Coast and sound musically pleasing while generating energy. I will also be able to use the power generated to run some LED screens that explain the issues we are facing with mining in this country and what people can do to help push our government towards renewable energy.
What I have recently found through research and exploration of the field of ‘Sound Sculpture’ is the importance of environment and audience in relation to the pieces. This aspect reappears constantly in the discussion of ‘Sound Sculpture’.
Ros Bandt discusses the location and environment of sound sculptures in relation to the audience as one of the important defining factors in his 1991 journal on ‘Public Interactive Sound Sculpture’ (Bandt. Ros, 1991). The concept that the recorded and performance-based music world is often stationary and inanimate, situated in concert halls or in front of a stereo system. He suggests that Sound Sculpture can allow participation from the listener and respects the listener as a creative participant.
The practice of sculpture for myself is based on engineering, mechanics and musical acoustics, although the aesthetic design space is integral to my creations. I have always taken cues from nature and my surroundings and I am fascinated by the geometric designs in nature from the microscopic through to the planetary evolution and forces that shape them. My interest in the biology of life and its combination with physics has been reinforced through my Astrobiology work and I have a drive to recreate this in my sculptures. The fabrication and construction work with my hands also provides a meditative practice for me and allows me to rest mentally.
For art curator Shannon Galpin, the importance of public art, is that it can bring art outside the galleries and place it in our everyday lives (Galpin, S. 2014). Inspiring and invoking change, illuminating activism and the spirt of hope in the public as they engage with it visually set amongst our everyday environment. Public art can surround us and create conversations and controversy, it forces us to have an opinion as we try to understand it’s purpose, starting a two-way conversation. Public art can reach people that may not have previously engaged with art and change their perceptions on certain topics, amplifying the voice of the artist.
The sculpture while fitting into the ‘Sound Sculpture’ field will be a machine that creates wonderment and curiosity in the audience. This in turn helps bring the viewer into understanding the concept behind the art and to draw their own conclusions from the visual and auditory stimulation. The concepts of climate change in relation to mining and the environment are common knowledge and it is my hope that the audience will connect this from their viewing of the piece.
The sculpture and the research attached to the design and implementation will help to contribute to a broader body of knowledge for future sound sculptors and art activists. Through my research and ideation of this project, I will be documenting and providing insight into my processes and perspectives on both the art design aspects and how I intend to integrate the environmental activism outcomes through my art.
The artist Sanaz Mazinani in his ‘Art + Activism’ video (Mazinani, S. 2015) talks about the significance of the artist’s identity and how it becomes as important as the work itself, the understanding of the perspective in which we come from, defines the context of the work and possibly through understanding and education we can better derive a foundation for our own art. Through my work with this piece I hope to provide a case study for others to better work through their own perspectives and how to integrate their intensions into their own art. I would like to ask what is the world like today when you created your art? and how can there be a potential for change through your art?
The medium of sculpture itself, the physical art space, creates a relationship between the artist’s perspective and intension and the viewer. This physical creation forms spaces for conversation and exchange, a new narrative can be formed that engages the viewer to think about the topic of climate change and how their actions are affecting the living organisms that form the coral reefs.
I will be attempting to use sound sculpture and my creative practice to create a new narrative on the topic of climate change, A new set of questions to ask the audience through my art.
Thelma Golden expresses that art can be used to create a new narrative in her presentation ‘How art gives shape to cultural change’ VIDEO 1:55
“I was interested in why and how I could create a new story, a new narrative in art history and in the world, and to do this I knew that I had to see the way that artists work, understand the artist studio as a laboratory, imagine then reinventing the museum as a think tank and looking at the exhibition as the ultimate white paper, asking questions, providing the space to look and think about answers.” (Golden, T. 2013)
I intend to engage my role as an artist to be a catalyst for this discussion, my intension is for my role to not simply be a content provider, but as a catalyst for change in thought processes and then in direct action.
Marcus Ellsworth also believes that art has a powerful role to play in creating change and connecting people with a new truth on an existing topic. In his 2014 TEDx talk ‘Art as activism’ (Ellsworth, M. 2014) he explains that art is a bringer of change, it has a way of connecting people, inspiring, motivating and moving people’s opinions. That we can use our art to express our truth and enact some change. I see my sculpture work as a chance to get out and tell my truth, unapologetically and without censoring myself to make the world a better place.
Dr Tammy Brown suggests the role of art in pushing for freedom, using art to educate and uplift in her video presentation ‘Art is a weapon for social change’.
“Art has the power to counteract and transcend racism, sexism, classism or any other ism that comes to mind.” (Brown, T. 2014)
Socially and politically engaged art strives to provide a counterpoint to the prevailing images of power and the stereotypes that are fed to us by the media on topics such as democracy, civil and human rights, capitalism and the environment. I suggest that all art is in sense political, as it is about a person’s views and freedom to act, freedom to express ourselves, art is about taking a position and encouraging others to feel that same emotion.
So how can I make a difference to the environment and climate change with the music in my sculpture? While there have been many commercial attempts to raise awareness and funds for the environment and climate change from famous musical artists using their presence to encourage others to take up arms, I intend to focus on my own local neighborhood. Expecting a reach globally is over-ambitious, so I intend to put my efforts towards enacting change in the audiences that will experience the sculpture first hand at the Swell Sculpture Festival in September 2018 on the Gold Coast, with an expected audience of 200,000 people.
There is a large collective of artists on the Gold Coast and Northern NSW and I intend to use my sculpture work to create a collective network of artists that can help drive a more direct change in our local governments thinking in relation to power consumption and renewable energy.
As an artist it is Important for me to have a voice, to be able to express myself, most artists I have met are driven to do this, to share their emotions with the world. Oscar Wilde was quoted in saying that “All art is quite useless”, while he was most likely being glib, I believe it is simply finding purpose or understanding in art that defines it’s use. Art allows for something that cannot be defined easily, it is difficult to quantify or qualify how anyone person will see your art or predict the ways in which it will affect people. In contradiction to Oscar Wilde, Friedrich Nietzsche said that “We have art in order not to perish from the truth”, I think that art has the ability to take from the past and present and help define what is now and how the future can be.
In Wilson’s 2016 article on ‘The Purpose of Art’, he quotes British artist Anthony Gormley in relation to art.
“Art is about one person’s expectation of and their use of their own freedom to act.” (Wilson, M. 2016)
Wilson also quotes composer Paul O’Neil in relation to great art and emotional response.
“The purpose of art is to create an emotional response in the person that is exposed to that art. And there are three categories of art; bad art, good art and great art. Bad art will elicit no emotional response in the person that is exposed to it, i.e.; a song you hear in an elevator and it does nothing to you, a picture on a wall that gives you the same emotional response as if the wall had been blank, a movie that chews up time. Good art will make you feel an emotion that you have felt before; you see a picture of a forest and you remember the last time you went fishing with your dad, you hear a song about love and you remember the last time you were in love. Great art will make you feel an emotion you have never felt before; seeing the pieta, the world-famous sculpture by Michelangelo, can cause someone to feel the pain of losing a child even if they’ve never had one.” (Wilson, M. 2016)
Perhaps then the best art should ask you what you think, prompt you to ask questions and put you into doubt. Katerina Gregos (Gregos, K. 2014) suggests that
“Art cracks open cemented opinions and challenges the given. It moves beyond the expected and the known and functions as the conscious of society” it gives voice to the other. “Art highlights important ideas, problems and issues that are sidelined or silenced due to political or economic interests. Art functions as the barometer of society, as a moral or intellectual resistance.”
In her TEDx talk she presents the following ideas,
“Art thinks about the world in its current state and reimagines it as it should be. More importantly, Art is the last frontier of unregulated free expression which is particularly important at a time when the commons public space and information are increasingly being privatized and regulated by the “Neo-liberal” order. In that sense, art is born of and advocates freedom. Artists always see a world full of opportunities, chances, potentials, possibilities and prospects, their ability to go beyond the possible and into the imaginable, should be an example and inspiration for us all.” (Gregos, K. 2014)
In direct relation to my art as ‘Sound Sculpture’, Georgina Born discusses the extension of sound installation art in her book ‘Music, sound and space transformations of public and private experience’.
“The emergence of sound installation art in the second half of the twentieth century reflects fundamental shifts within multiple arenas: conceptions of space and space–time; the ascendancy of site within the aural imagination; the extension of music and sonic arts into expanded sculptural and architectural models; and the role of the public in relation to aesthetic experience.” (Born, G. 2013)
And Niels Van Tomme discusses the added importance of sound art in his article ‘Radical Sound Activism’.
“What is it about sound that is actually able to register a type of critique that may be different from vision, for example? There is a certain kind of intimacy with sound; it moves through time; it does in fact register the evolution and the layering of ideas.” (Van Tomme, N. 2009)
He also goes on to say that,
“It is valuable that people become aware of the emotional relations they have to themselves, to each other and to the conditions they are experiencing. That affective level becomes a form of analysis; it is by registering those things that you are also able to have an additional level of critical reflection.” (Van Tomme, N. 2009)
I would suggest that my work with sound sculpture can also blur the line between activism and art by interrogating the environment and politics that relate to my community. Creating interest through the use of sound and music within my sculpture will bring more interest and create a deeper need for understanding the piece. Making art is bringing something to the world, and sound sculpture is combining music and physical form in the guise of wonderment.
My own searches for works relating or being called ‘Sound Sculptures’ have found works that can either generate sound and sonic textures including ‘noise’ or un-harmonious sound) such as the ‘Aeolus’ (K. 2011), works that are machines and ‘perform’ structured or pitched musical pieces, such as the Music Box at the Figment interactive sculpture garden in New York (The Music Box. 2018) and also works that simply visually represent sound, such as Penda’s soundwaves in China (Zhi, X. 2015).
Anyone of these three definitions can represent ‘Sound Sculptures’ and it seems that simply including or representing sound in a physical sculpture can define a ‘Sound Sculpture’. My interest is from a musician/composer/producer background and therefore strongly situated in the 2nd definition and creating moving kinetic sculptures that perform a pre-composed piece. I am also interested in having these kinetic sculptures powered by either natural forces or renewable energy.
Licht mentions that David Troop called sound sculpture ‘sound combined with visual art practices’ and that Schulz mentions it is ‘an art form y in which sound has become material within the context of an expanded concept of sculpture y for the most part works that are space-shaping and space-claiming in nature’ (Licht, A, 2009). And that
“Sound art holds the distinction of being an art movement that is not tied to a specific time period, geographic location or group of artists, and was not named until decades after its earliest works were produced. Indeed, the definition of term remains elusive”. (Licht, A, 2009)
Through my work on this project I hope to form a better definition of ‘Sound Sculpture’ in relation to my work and put it into perspective with my professional music career. At this stage my definition of Sound Sculpture is anything physical that generates auditory tones, I disagree that sculptures simply visually representing sound waves are ‘Sound Sculptures’.
Inspirations & References
I am inspired by the new and I tend to be drawn to other sculptors that work the same way instead of simply recreating forms, designs and mediums that have been created before. One of my inspirations for kinetic sculpture work is Anthony Howe. I enjoy the connection between geometric design and nature and attempting to mimic that in my sculpture work. Kinetic and geometric work by artists such as Anthony Howe (Howe, A. 2015). There are many kinetic works online and these form a basis for reference. I hope to create a style and profile for myself as a sculptor with the integration of musical pieces, simple color systems, renewable energy and a connection to the environment and nature.
I like the interactivity and integration of natural elements in Steve Mann’s Hydraulophone. It serves three main roles “as an architectural display fountain, like other large fountains that visually define a landmark, iconic representation, or the like; it provides an aquatic play experience, and it invites people of all ages to “play in the water”; it is a visual art sculpture, a sound sculpture, and a musical instrument, thus bringing art, music, culture, and play into the mix.” (Mann, S. 2006)
Harry Bertoia’s sound-producing visual works are very interesting, although he was not aware of the genre ‘Sound Sculpture’ at the time of his creations. He is quoted in saying the following.
“Man is not important. Humanity is what counts, to which, I feel, I have given my contribution. Humanity shall continue without me, but I am not going away. I am not leaving you. Every time you see some tree tops moving in the wind, you will think of me. Or you will see some beautiful flowers; you will think of me. I have never been a very religious man, not in the formal way, but each time I took a walk in the woods, I felt the presence of a superior force around me.” (Bertoia, H. 1978)
As mentions earlier I like the Cutuchogue sisters Kelly and Ashley Goeller’s Music Box and its interactivity.
“Everyone these days listens to music digitally. It’s very individual,” Ashley said. “We wanted to make it collaborative, so in order to play the song two people have to turn the handles.” (The Music Box. 2018)
Other kinetic pipe organ sculptures I have sourced for inspiration include the ‘Wave Organ’ (Wave Organ, 2016) by Peter Richards and George Gonzalez in San Francisco, which uses the wave and tidal movements to amplify the sound of water and the ocean. The Singing Tree (The Singing, Ringing Tree, 2007) by Tonkin Liu Architects in Burley, UK, a collection of steel pipes that utilise the wind to create sound. The ‘Aeolus’ at the Eden Project’ (Aeolus at the Eden Project, 2011) by Luke Jerram in the UK and the ‘Zadar Sea Organ’ (Zadar Sea Organ, 2015) by Nikola Basic in the town of Zadar in Croatia.
Sound Activist Artists
In relation to sound activist artists, Chisholm talks about composer John Luther Adams’ work with Sila and the effect of sound and music on environmental activism.
“Music is no alternative to environmental activism or climate science or direct exposure to melting ice caps, rising seas, and cataclysmic winds, but it can compose climate-change sensations that directly affect our listening, feeling, and thinking. It can even, I venture, redirect our attention outside ourselves, which is to say outside our ubiquitous, Muzak-saturated commercial environments and our global/local webs of news and social media that tend to be self-enclosing and all-absorbing.” (Chisholm, D. 2016)
While I find this work interesting, my professional work in the arts has cemented the idea of creating musical works that have appeal and interest to non-musical people as well as musicians. Simply creating a cacophony of sound and movement is no doubt art, but the lack of a cohesive format leaves most nonmusical or audio based people uninterested and disconnected.
I will be participating in Concert for the Planet on March 24th with my Migaloo Song sculpture and as part of the HOTA choir. The event will feature a globalized performance by the Gold Coast Philharmonic Orchestra, extended to include over 100 local musicians who will perform Holst’s The Planets under the baton of conductor Lachlan Snow. (https://www.absolutetheatre.com.au/single-post/2018/03/09/Gold-Coast-to-shine-for-Earth-Hour-at-Concert-for-the-Planet) I intend to use this opportunity to attach some video screens to my previous sculpture in order to drive some direct action and change in the audience.
To end I would like to share more from Katerina Gregos’ view on the potential of art from her TEDx talk on ‘Why art is important’. She says in relation to art that
“It’s a subtle power that changes the world one perception at a time.”.
“Art is optimistic because it makes a statement that one person can change the world” and that
“Art as an act of shared communication is in a small way saying: I make the world, I don’t simply inherit it”.
Bandt, R. (1991). Public interactive sound sculpture. Australian Journal of Music Education, (1), 5.
Bertoia, H. (2016). Bertoia Home. Retrieved March 12, 2018, from http://harrybertoia.org
Gregos, K. (2014, September 02). Why art is important – Katerina Gregos (TEDx). Retrieved March 5, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UPk56BR1Cmk
Born, G. (2013). Music, sound and space transformations of public and private experience. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Brown, T., Dr. (2014, May 23). Art is a weapon for social change – Dr Tammy Brown (TEDx). Retrieved March 8, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7o6kbRBFLdI&t=717s
Chisholm, D. (2016). Shaping an Ear for Climate Change. Environmental Humanities,8(2), 172-195. doi:10.1215/22011919-3664211
Cooper, G. (2017, September 27). Migaloo’s Song. Retrieved March 11, 2018, from http://guycooper.com.au/migaloo
Ellsworth, M. (2014, November 15). Art as activism – Marcus Ellsworth (TEDx). Retrieved March 6, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLg8LMK_Ct4&t=4s
Fontana, B. (2008). The relocation of ambient sound: urban sound sculpture. Leonardo, 41(2), 154-158.
Galpin, S. (2014, February 18). Art as activism – Shannon Galpin (TEDx). Retrieved March 8, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_HjpZoYMw_E
Golden, T. (2013, February 24). How art gives shape to cultural change – Thelma Golden (TEDx). Retrieved March 6, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FCihq5n-hE&t=2s
Howe, A. (2015, June 12). Full Compilation of Kinetic Masterpieces by Anthony Howe. Retrieved December 13, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J4l5rHNSq9s&t=918s%29
(2011, September 22). Aeolus at the Eden Project. Retrieved December 12, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=__YdjypIZ_o
Licht, A. (2009). Sound Art: Origins, development and ambiguities. Organised Sound, 14(1), 3-10.
(2015, March 10). Zader Sea Organ. Retrieved December 13, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n86pF-wQKrw
Mann, S. (2006, December 07). The Urban Beach Meets Steve Mann’s Hydraulophone. Retrieved March 2, 2018, from http://readingcities.com/index.php/toronto/C88/P4/
Mazinani, S. (2015, June 30). Art + Activism – Sanaz Mazinani. Retrieved March 6, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FTp_nLgcPyU
Music Box. (2018, February 18). Retrieved March 1, 2018, from https://www.pinterest.com.au/pin/314689092706602359/
(2007, January 07). The Singing, Ringing Tree. Retrieved December 12, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4B0hGyKV9qs&t=51s
Wilson, M. (2016). The Purpose Of Art. Retrieved March 5, 2018, from https://mildredwilson.art/blog/100310/the-purpose-of-art
Wave Organ (2016, April 24). Wave Organ. Retrieved December 12, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7uMRomj4VjI%29
Van Tomme, N. March 11, 2009. (2013, May 17). Radical Sound Activism – FPIF. Retrieved March 8, 2018, from http://fpif.org/radical_sound_activism/
Zhi, X. (2015, March 31). Pendas soundwave pierces the myrtle tree garden. Retrieved February 22, 2018, from https://www.designboom.com/art/penda-soundwave-500-fins-myrtle-tree-garden-xiangyang-china-03-30-2015/