Interactive Sculpture at Lamont Gallery
On Friday, November 17, 2017 the Lamont Gallery welcomed Masary Studios’ Sound Sculpture for a special one day, community participatory exhibition: Illuminating Bodies. This event coincided with the opening reception for the Possible Subject Positions exhibition.
The day started just like any other – until Ryan Edwards, One of the artistic directors of Masary Studios and co-creator of the Sound Sculpture arrived with a van full of 17” cubes made of poly-ethylene plastic and a plethora of electronic gear for this interactive piece. After unloading the van Ryan began setting up the cubes and equipment all the while good-naturedly explaining the process and the piece to curious gallery visitors.
Of course, we also took the opportunity to have some fun with the blocks as well!
Lunch and Learn
The gallery hosted a luncheon lecture with Ryan so our community could learn more about the piece as well as the other work that Masary Studios has done. The audience was made up of a wonderful mix of PEA students, faculty, and staff as well as members from the local community and Merill Comeau, one of the artists exhibiting in Possible Subject Positions. The conversation was largely directed by some excellent student questions. One of our student gallery proctors, Wendi Yan, introduced Ryan and talked about her experience seeing one of Masary Studios’ pieces during the Illuminous festival in Boston, Massachusetts.
Ryan talked about the path that brought him to where he is now, which includes a degree in performance from Berklee College of Music, an apprenticeship in traditional music, dance and instrument-building in Guinea, West Africa, and many opportunities working with public and performing artists in New England.
Ryan also shared with us the realties and rewards of making a living doing his work and what he has learned from other artists working in the field. According to Ryan, one important skill required for successfully working in a creative career is the ability to “wear many hats.” Some of the “hats” that Ryan wears as an artist and performer include: marketing, finance, submitting grant proposals, acting as a human resources director to hire people for specific aspects of projects, and most importantly carving out time to work on the creative process of developing new works.
One of the projects, in addition to the Sound Sculpture, that Ryan shared with the group was Waking the Monster, a piece that transformed a Boston icon: Fenway Parks’ Green Monster. Ryan explained how the space was transformed with video projections, lights, performers and six musical compositions that turned the “Monster” as an instrument. This led to a discussion about the importance of public art and interactive art in community spaces and how art can help boost the economies of towns and cities as well as enrich the lives of the individuals experiencing it.
The last question of the luncheon was asked by Wendi – our student proctor who introduced Ryan – she asked if he could do any project, and money and time was not an object, what would his next project be. Ryan became pretty excited and went on the describe creating a large-scale Sound Sculpture performance the size of a football field with 200 blocks and a large group of dancers from local dance companies performing a choreographed routine with the blocks. By the end of the luncheon we all decided that we would go see this project when it becomes a reality!
Illuminated Bodies and the Sound Sculpture in Action
After the luncheon, the Sound Sculpture was ready for our community to interact with it. The 25 blocks were in the center of the gallery and the lights were dimmed.
Ryan Edwards explains the details of how this interactive piece works:
“Sound Sculpture is an interactive sound and light set of building blocks that produce sound…. Each block has a positioning tag inside, a battery, a router, and an LED light array.
Participants place the blocks throughout a designated area. When activated, the
controlling software sends a ‘bang’ to the blocks in sequence – from one end of
the area to the other. In this way ‘musical time’ is viewable as the bricks light
sequentially and make their corresponding sound. Music! Colored Light!
As participants change the order and orientation of the blocks, the musical
composition changes accordingly. Certain pre-set programs might correlate
musical pitch to position as well.
Each ‘bang’ or instance where a block lights up and triggers a sound is also an
event in color.”
This event drew many students, PEA employees, and children of all ages and adults from the Seacoast community to the Lamont Gallery. Ryan was on hand all day to talk with visitors about the technical aspects of the piece.
The Sound Sculpture was in constant action as participants stacked and moved the blocks created musical and visual compositions. By the end of the evening people were building forts, towers, and even thrones with the blocks. There was also a platform reminiscent of a disco-era dance floor created by a few of our smallest participants.
We also couldn’t help but notice the interesting interplay between these blocks and the shapes and colors of some of the pieces in the Possible Subject Positions exhibition.
We are grateful to Ryan Edwards for sharing the Sound Sculpture and his time and knowledge with our community.
– Stacey Durand, Lamont Gallery Manager