Aeolian Drainage Pipe
I sought to create an Aeolian harp that reflected the characteristics of the space between Scaife Hall and the Schenley Drive Bridge that is bordered by Frew Street and the railroad tracks north of Hamburg Hall, to the southwest and northwest respectively. In selecting a space, I looked for an area that I traversed often and stood out to me for whatever reason. As I often walk along this route, and I am always amazed by the site as well as the strange juxtaposition of nature amongst civilization, it was an easy decision to place my work here.
In spending time at the site, I realized that the space seems almost forgotten; littered with garbage just beyond the line-of-sight of the sidewalk along the side of the road. As I walked along the ground, I could feel the moist earth beneath my feet hidden under the decaying leaf and hay matter. The ground is quite steep and slightly perilous to traverse due to the slick surface of the hay and leaves. This was quite different from the almost manicured space near the sidewalk.
Furthermore, the site provides for a stark contrast between the city and this small bastion of nature. The rigid metalwork of the Schenley Bridge, the boiler factory across from the site, and the rail lines along the bottom of the valley all speak to industrialization and the past of the city itself. However, the encroachment of nature vis-à-vis the trees along the valley walls and Schenley park looming beyond the bridge creates this very overt symbolism that mirrors the city’s renaissance of the past forty years.
In planning my design for a harp, I looked first toward the work of Luke Jerram and Thomas Ward McCain. I did not want my work to look as out-of-place as Jerram’s Acoustic Wind Pavilion nor as beautiful as McCain’s Chelsea Wind Harp. I settled for a modified design inspired by Stanley Hershonik’s PVC wind harp that utilized eye bolts and fishing line strung along the length of a six-foot plastic drainage pipe. While initially meant to hang, the pipe produced sound only when firmly on the ground. While I did want the harp to look as foreign and industrial as possible, I painted it brown to avoid it standing out too much (the pipe was initially white with black lettering). However, the paint does not adhere well to the pipe, and slowly scratched or flaked off over time. Inadvertently, this distressed look complemented the rest of the garbage on the site.
The instrument itself only produces overtones of the strings, which are themselves tuned to E, B, or G-sharp (the root note being the one I hear whenever I listen to the inside of the pipe). It can only make sounds when a suitable amount of air is blowing across the majority of the body of the pipe. The sound is difficult to describe, though I have always seen it as thoroughly alien in timbre. I wanted this sound to be heard from the sidewalk, as if enticing the passersby to explore this neglected area and find the source of the sound.
Here is my image gallery of the work on-site and the site itself:
Here is an audio sample of the pipe:
Spur-of-the-moment video when the pipe came to life while walking from the site: