Architect David Hanawalt and Sonic Installation artist Bill Close have collaborated to create an astonishing house that serves as a resonant cavity for a large-scale instrument – they call it the symphonic house.
You’ll find the description of the house and its inner workings much more appealing and comprehensible on the Symphonic House’s website (www.symphonichouse.com) than in my own words, so to cut to the chase, here’s a resume of their resume.
The house is set up with a series of musical experiences that are intriguing and inviting for the Wege family and guests. Curious fingers of any musical background find the excitement of bringing the Architecture to life through sound/music.
As the majority of the architectural instruments are based around long string technology, it is important to know how long strings are played. First a player puts on a cotton glove that has rosin powder on the fingers. The glove helps to hold the rosin and keep natural oils off the strings. Two fingers lightly pinch the string and run along. This action creates a compression wave within the material of the string. The fingers push the vibration along in a similar manner that one might create tone by running their finger around the edge of a glass. The action produces tones akin to cello or viola, however they are more resonant with upper harmonics. The tones are pure and beautiful.
As one enters the house they are invited into a condensed space in which the entire 12×12 ft wall is a tight pattern of vertical strings. As a finger runs along the wall of strings they come to life with cordal resonance that slips away quickly as the tight space compresses the sound.
How it works
The stair installation is an amazing example of tuning through Architecture. Strings start from the base of each stair and run vertically to the skylight some twenty feet above the base stair. The strings rise in pitch as one ascends the stair well. A player on the bottom of the stairwell plays the low notes while a player up on the third floor part of the stairs plays the higher notes. Tones reverberate through out the stair well in a unique form of musical communication.
At the core of the House runs to massive beams forty feet in length. These beams become the basis for the core instruments of the house. These are two long stringed instruments. The strings run from musical bridges that are accessible on the second floor. The strings run out through specially designed gaps in a low wall and out over the Main room in the house. When the instrument is played the Main room is alive with the pure tones of long stringed vibration. This vibration is transferred into the beams and walls of the main room. This literally puts both the listener and the player inside the resonant chamber of the instrument. It is the ultimate in surround sound as the architecture is the instrument.The instruments are tuned primarily through length. The longer the string the lower the sound. To create the tone of middle C on the piano, a forty foot long string is needed. Different lengths can be defined by using the architecture and tuning bridges that mount anywhere along the string. Tension does not play a major role in the tuning process all the strings have approximately 75 lbs of pressure on them. They are not under a lot of pressure thus keeping the installation safe and non-disruptive to the architecture.Two experimental wind harps are designed into the exterior of the house. Running 15 ft high they are positioned to catch wind and set up a series of tones that ideally would transfer into they main room.
Here’s a little video of someone playing the house:
Found this on a website called oddmusic.com that posts about all the unusual instruments they can find. You’ll find some interesting stuff on that website.