ART AT THE EXPLORATORIUM
A BRIEF SUMMARY OF ARTIST-IN-RESIDENCE PROJECTS AT THE EXPLORATORIUM
DRUM BY STEPHAN VON HUENE AND JAMES TENNEY (1976)
Beautifully crafted in Plexiglass, this 5'-diameter drum has 32 pneumatically actuated hammers mounted around its rim. A microcomputer controls the hammer and receives its instructions from a large rotating disc that contains musical compositions which are read by a light sensor. Composer James Tenney wrote three percussion pieces for the project.
AEOLIAN HARP BY DOUGLAS HOLLIS (1977)
Named after Aeolis, the Greek goddess of wind, this wind-activated acoustic sculpture is mounted on the roof of the Exploratorium. The sounds produced by the wind blowing across the choir of strings are transmitted mechano-acoustically to speakers located just above the north entrance to the building.
VORTEX BY DOUG HOLLIS (1979)
Doug Hollis built a self-renewing vortex formed by pumping water from the bottom of a 6'-high, 24"-diameter Plexiglass cylinder and then returning it to the top at a high rate of speed. The resulting swirl forms a beautiful whirlpool which can reach all the way to the bottom of the cylinder or disappear completely at the whim of the viewer.
THE MUSICAL JET BY PATRICK READY (1979)
This project was based on a book by C. V. Boys, who wrote about late l9th-century experiments concerning transmitting sound via jet streams of water. An installation was created consisting of a large pool of water, speaker horns and jets of water allowing visitors to transmit their voices through the unlikely medium of a water jet.
DISCERNIBLITY BY ED TANNENBAUM (1980)
Discernibility is an interactive video sculpture that allows a person to manipulate images of themselves. By altering the gray levels, or by stretching their own video portraits, one can do experiments to find out how much information is needed to discern an image.
SOUND COLUMN BY DANIEL W. SCHMIDT (1980)
Sound Column is a musical instrument whose resonating chamber is a 60'-high room in a column of the rotunda of the Palace of Fine Arts.
Within the Sound Column are mounted six polished aluminum bars and a tool to strike them with. A ramp inside the column lets visitors experience the changes in the resonating sounds at various heights. When struck, the aluminum bars vibrate, interacting with the air column to create a series of deep resonating sounds of specific pitch. The series of standing sound waves activated by the vibrating bars are acoustically arranged so that the participant may experience a variety of pitch and hearing changes depending on the height at which he or she stands. At different levels, different sounds occur, including pitch change, sound intensity and the dampening of sound.
MUSIC ROOM BY PAUL DEMARINIS (1981)
Music Room is a unique multi-player computer music system which enables visitors with no previous musical training to participate in a lively ensemble experience and to create a coherent composition together. Each member of the ensemble is responsible for a distinct musical part and plays that part by performing on one of the five touch-sensitive guitars. One instrument controls rhythm, meter and tempo, playing percussion sounds. A second plays bass lines and coordinates harmonic movement, while two more direct harmony voicing, orchestration and melodic figurations. The fifth instrument is capable of pure melodic invention.
RECOLLECTIONS BY ED TANNENBAUM (1981)
This work addresses the poetics of motion, time and color. A video camera picks up head-to-toe movements of a viewer/participant. A sequence of these images is stored in solid-state memory and displayed on color monitors or projected in controlled "modes" that are based on time and space. Through this work, the participant is able to explore animated effects -- how sequences of images create movement. By displaying sequences simultaneously, movement forms are created. The history of the movement is expressed through rainbow-colored multi images that evoke memories of Harold Edgerton's work.
VIDEO FEEDBACK BY SKIP SWEENEY (1983)
Video Feedback presents images created by a video camera that is aimed at an angle into a video monitor. The system, created by Skip Sweeney, allows the viewer to control and manipulate the camera's relationship to the monitor as well as the f stop, zoom and focus of the camera's lens. Organic in appearance, continuously geometric in nature, the black and white images pulsate and evolve as the camera responds to the images that it sends to the monitor.
FLAME SPEAKER BY NICK BERTONI AND MAGGI PAYNE (1984)
Flame Speaker is a sound sculpture whose 10"-high gas flame becomes the medium through which one can speak or play music. As one approaches the piece, remarkably high fidelity music can be heard coming from the flame itself, as the ionized gas of the flame vibrates to the electrical impulses provided by an enclosed amplifier. By speaking into a microphone or playing on a small keyboard, one can control the sounds coming from the flame, and explore the sequences and dynamic ranges of the flame speaker.
PENTAPHONE BY JONATHAN GLASER (1984)
Pentaphone is a five-sided marimba-like instrument which is comprised of five sets of bars tuned to different registers of the same pentatonic scale. The bars are made of paduk wood, aluminum, magnesium, flame-treated bamboo and glass. All but the bamboo have tuned resonators to balance the instrument's dynamic range. The characteristic timbres of each type of bar and the constant pentatonic scale to which they are tuned allow even untrained players to conduct engaging musical conversations without fear of playing "wrong notes."
WAVE ORGAN BY PETER RICHARDS AND GEORGE GONZALES (1986)
Wave Organ, a wave-activated sound sculpture, is located on a nearby jetty and utilizes wave action from the bay to create a symphony of sound that emanates from a series of pipes that reach down into the water. A wonderful collection of granite building material that existed on the site was utilized to create a series of sculptured terraces and seating areas. The listening pipes, made of PVC and concrete plaster, extend from the seating areas to the water. The intensity and complexity of the wave music is directly related to the tides and weather.
ALIEN VOICES BY PAUL DEMARINIS (1989)
Alien Voices initially looks and sounds familiar, but these two side-by-side oak and glass structures, like old-fashioned telephone booths, contain telephones with a difference. Each phone has a touch-control panel with sixteen different options for changing one's speech with the help of a computer control. Visitors holding a conversation with someone in the neighboring booth can suddenly vary their voice from a monotone to a throaty whisper or add a Gregorian Chant line to what they say. By letting us exaggerate or eliminate the nuances that are present in each of our individual speech patterns, Alien Voices demonstrates how, despite the meaning of words, the "music" of our speech can change the intent of what we say.
WELL OF LIGHTS AND MUSIC INSECTS BY TOSHIO IWAI (1992)
An extension of early 19th-century moving image technology: flipbooks, zoetropes, etc., Well of Lights goes well beyond film and the video monitor/TV format to consider some revolutionary ways in which an object and image can appear to move in space before one's very eyes. Well of Lights is an image sculpture, a three-dimensional sculpture employing layers of moving imagery that are generated by a combination of computers, strobing video projections and spinning transparent discs.
Music Insects consists of an RGB monitor with four "insects" moving about randomly, each corresponding to a different instrument (piano, bass, percussion) in a MIDI sound module. There is also a palette of colors which correspond to the individual pitches of a two octave diatonic scale. The user paints his/her music on the screen by selecting and placing a color from the palette with the cursor or "brush." As the insects on the screen cross the lines drawn by the "composer," they sound the pitch indicated by the color on their particular instrument. Certain colors cause the insects to change directions, allowing them to move around the entire screen. In short, users find themselves employing the visual medium of painting with colored light to actually compose their own beautiful music.