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SPring 8 Wind Organ (1997)

Related EntriesAudio Visual Gallery
Environmentally Sensitive Installation, Sound Sculpture, Outdoor Installation and Temporary Installation
Location: Harima, Japan
By Alan Lamb

This wire installation belongs to the other end of the spectrum of possible forms and functions. I was invited by the Japanese Government through the agency of the Sounding Spheres Festival to construct a large temporary wire installation on 10 acres of cleared and bulldozed flat ground high in the mountain wilderness at Harima, north of Kobe. The purpose of the festival was to celebrate the opening of Japan's gigantic new electron accelerator the 8 gigavolt "SPring 8 Synchotron", largest in world. My brief was to build an installation to "remind the Japanese people and the scientists working at the synchotron that we must venerate Nature and her primal forces no matter how far technology progresses".

I decided on an installation to reflect one of the most ubiquitous patterns in nature, the hexagon (6 being the smallest of the only three perfect numbers I know of; 28 is the next), and also to base it upon communication, the most fundamental function which allows nature to evolve. I also wanted the installation to be as accessible as possible to Japanese people from all walks and especially to children, so they could listen to it, sing dance and play with it and make sound and music on it, as many at a time who wanted to.

The basic design followed the hexagonal pattern shown in the sketch(es). Each pole, up to 4 meters high, was made from a cluster of 7 or 3 high pressure water pipes bound together to repeat the hexagonal structure (see photos), and the wires (high tensile steel 2.8mm in spans of 100 meters or 62 meters, the ratio 62/100 being the golden mean, another ubiquitous element in nature) were suspended just above head height for ease of access. Communication between people in pairs and groups was achieved using the polystyrene foam box method (above).

The instrument was the most beautiful I have built both visually and acoustically. Its responsiveness to the mountain winds was so fine that it sang to the perfection I had been striving for so many years. Unfortunately there was an unexpected unknown. Because it was sited in such a high security area (for the synchtron), it was off limits outside normal woking hours and weekends, and it was regularly patrolled by site security. The weekend after it was finished and 4 days before the start of the festival, a security patrol vehicle drove into the wires in the darkness. Though the structure was repairable, the wires were ruined for they had been stretched beyond their elastic limit and some broken. Wires damaged like this will not sing. With no time and materials to replace them I opted for a "next best" situation, focussing on the fact that the damaged wires would still transmit sound.

The basic unit of the Great Bow consists of a nylon monofilament about 1mm diameter and 1.5 meters long tied vertically from one of the wires near its anchor point to a massive object (eg concrete) on the ground below. It is tuned usually to about A#. A bow is made from curved bamboo using the same nylon of the same length and tuned to same pitch. With careful rosinning of both filaments, the two respond to each other in mirror image fashion at the slightest stroke of the bow on the vertical filament. Complex rhythms and sustains of all the partials in various groupings can be picked out even after only few minutes of learning. With practise a superb modal music can be played. (the only recording committed to CD may be heard on Night Passage (Dorobo, Melbourne 1998).

The Great Bows saved the installation and I cannot say the resulting music was any the lesser for it. The students learned much.

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Prepared by: Iain Mott
Created: 30 May 2002
Modified: 2 July 2002

Published by The University of Melbourne
Comments, questions, corrections and additions: i.mott@unimelb.edu.au
Prepared by: Acknowledgements
Updated: 18 January 2007

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