Listen to These 7 Sound Sculptures
Some art is intended to be viewed—and some art is meant to be heard. These seven examples require the use of both senses.
1. THE SINGING RINGING TREE // BURNLEY, ENGLAND
Looming above Burnley, the Singing Ringing Tree is made of galvanized steel pipes. As the wind blows through the pipes, the nearly 10-foot-tall sculpture creates eerie sounds in several octaves. When it was completed in 2006, the sculpture improved the aesthetic of the area in more ways than one—before architects Mike Tonkin and Anna Liu created the tree, the site was home to an old transmission station. Its rundown brick building and unused telegraph lines were dismantled and reused elsewhere to make room for the sculpture.
2. THE WAVE ORGAN // SAN FRANCISCO
Like the Singing Ringing Tree, San Francisco’s Wave Organ also uses nature and pipes to make beautiful music. But in this case, the element used is water, not wind. Peter Richards developed the idea for the Wave Organ in the 1970s and tapped sculptor George Gonzales to help him bring the concept to life. The installation was finished in 1986 and has been delighting visitors to the San Francisco Bay ever since. The sound is created when waves interact with 25 organ pipes made out of PVC and concrete that are installed at different elevations. If you're planning to witness the musical magic in person, check the tide first. The Wave Organ typically sounds best at high tide.
3. BLACKPOOL HIGH TIDE ORGAN // BLACKPOOL, ENGLAND
Can’t make it to San Francisco? Then try for Blackpool, England. That’s where you’ll find the Blackpool High Tide Organ, a “musical manifestation of the sea” made of concrete, steel, zinc and copper that was created in 2002. High tide pushes air up into inlet pipes, which causes organ pipes to make sounds in a B-flat series. “Its sound is more ambient than tuneful,” co-designer Liam Curtain explains of the 49-foot-tall structure.
Visitors can hear the award-winning organ play up to three hours before high tide, and it continues for about two hours after high tide.
4. A SOUND GARDEN // SEATTLE
First things first: Yes, the band Soundgarden is named after this sculpture. Created by sculptor Douglas Hollis in 1983, Seattle’s “A Sound Garden” consists of twelve 20-foot steel towers with wind vanes and organ pipes attached to them. When the wind blows, the vanes rotate the pipes in that direction and haunting sounds emanate from the sculpture—but it will have to be a strong wind. Because of the work's deterioration over time, only strong winds create audible tones.
5. THE PENDLETON SPINNRADL // CINCINNATI
The next time you catch yourself in downtown Cincinnati, keep an eye out for the Pendleton Spinnradl—at 14 feet tall, you can’t miss them. In order to see the two collaborative sculptures at work, visitors simply turn a handcrank that makes them sing. One plays “Coney Island Dip,” written by a Cincinnati composer, and the other appropriately plays “Spinnradl,” a German dance song.
6. HARRY BERTOIA'S SOUNDING SCULPTURES // BALLY, PENNSYLVANIA
Harry Bertoia wanted to create an instrument that anyone could immediately play without years of training and study. During one of his experiments, Bertoia was bending a wire and it broke, striking another one. The melodious noise it made immediately stood out to him. What sound would it make if hundreds of wires struck each other?
That question inspired the world-known artist to create a series of sculptures in the 1960s and '70s in varying shapes and sizes. Eventually, Bertoia went on to record 11 self-released vinyl albums of himself playing the structures. He called the music "Sonambient," a term meaning the process of making sound with the sculptures.
7. SEA ORGAN // ZADAR, CROATIA
Like some of the other sculptures on our list, the Sea Organ, created by architect Nikola Bašić, also relies on the movement of water to create sound. But its structure is a little different—a series of stone steps disappear down into the water, and beneath them, 35 pipes make noise based on the waves and air pressure. There are five pipes per step, each one tuned to a different chord. The 230-foot-long Sea Organ won the European Prize for Urban Public Space in 2006.