Curious Trends


Communal music created by nature

Music played by humans on musical instruments to an audience is traditionally considered to be communal entertainment. Now large scale structures, producing sounds generated by the elements, are becoming increasingly popular as pieces of communal municipal art and privately commissioned artworks. Wind and water are the main natural resources used to power these unique acoustic features.

Originating in ancient Greece, the Aeolian harp is a musical instrument that is played by the wind, which initiates harmonic resonances to create the harp's eerie sound. The Aeolian harp takes its name from the Greek god of the wind, Aeolus, as its other-worldly sounds are initiated by the movement of the wind over its strings. The instrument is also known as the harmonic harp and spirit harp.

Aeolian harps were popular with Victorians - Coleridge had one in his window which inspired his poetry. The BBC's History of the World in 100 Objects had an Aeolian harp amongst their selection at the British Museum. For fans of DIY design, a simple Aeolian harp is relatively easy to make. The latest large scale outdoor designs, on the other hand, are a feat of modern engineering:

Soundscapes International creates contemporary outdoor fine art, in the form of acoustic sculptures. They use Aeolian wind harps to create a living auditory experience called the HarmonicSound Gardenwhich expresses a dynamic synergy between art, science, nature, sound and silence."Soundscapes claim that their modern acoustic sculptures "create a dynamic synergy between sacred geometry, harmonic sound and the true power of water…it is a living and interactive Soundscape inviting the public to enter into its multi-dimensional energy field. Carefully laid out benches, plants walkways and fountains provide a perfect setting within which to relax and enjoy the visual and audible beauty of a variety of contemporary acoustic sculptures called wind harps…" There is also flowing water to induce a sense of calm and tranquility.

Another well known Sound Garden is in Seattle.

In the UK we have the Singing Ringing Tree. Commisioned by a forward thinking Burnley Council, a collection of tubes makes curious sounds when the wind blows across moorland overlooking Burnley at Crown Point. In the background is Pendle Hill, famous for the Pendle Witches.

Sarah Deere-Jones runs a harp centre with her partner in Launceston, Cornwall, where the couple have an outdoor harp in their garden. This track called Whispers is from the CD 'Soirbheas'(Surra-Vis) Gaelic for Fair Wind. It features the Celtic harp and an Aeolian harp - to the rhythmic beat of an eco-friendly wind turbine in the background:

Here's some footage of the famous sea organ at Zadar in Croatia:

And there's a wave organ in San Francisco too. Robin Don's Aeolian Water Sculpture is a more arty, smaller scale design, created for a private swimming pool.

.In the UK we have Blackpool's High Tide Organ,. a 15 metre tall tidal contstruction, built in 2002 as part of 'The Great Promenade Show'series of sculptures, situated along Blackpool's New Promenade.The artwork, designed by Liam Curtin and John Gooding from concrete, steel, zinc and copper sheet, has been described as a "musical manifestation of the sea."

The instrument is played by the sea at high tide through eight pipes which are attached to the sea wall. These are connected under the promenade to 18 organ pipes within the sculpture. The swell of seawater at high tide pushes air up the sea-wall pipes and causes the organ pipes to sound. The best time to hear the High Tide Organ is 2-3 hours before or after high tide. On very calm days the organ is silent for part of its cycle. The pitches of the pipes are based on the harmonic series in B flat, a naturally occurring series of harmonics.
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