New permanent sound artwork by Trimpin anchors Caramoor’s Sonic Innovations collection
When Caramoor first asked Trimpin to create a permanent sound art sculpture in celebration of its 75th Anniversary, the world-renowned sound artist thought about Caramoor’s acoustical environment: the birds singing, the wind in the trees, and the blissful absence of street noise. He then conceived of in “C”, the interactive kinetic sculpture shaped as a 16-foot high double letter C now located in the entry plaza, welcoming guests as they arrive.
From the top of the C’s curve, 24 tuned metal bell chimes ranging over two octaves are suspended. Made out of steel and utilizing electromechanical components, in “C” interacts with visitors through a motion sensor (as you approach, its melodious chimes draw you closer) and through the physical activation of a push-button panel (don’t be shy!). The push-buttons activate the structure’s chimes to play pre-composed short pieces, each 1—2 minutes long. In addition to Trimpin’s music, Caramoor commissioned pieces from four composers: Christopher Cerrone, Anna Clyne, Missy Mazzoli, and Nico Muhly. As Caramoor continues to work with composers, the chime-piece library will grow. When in “C” is in its education mode, a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) keyboard enables visitors of any musical ability (or even none!) to make their own chime music, as the chimes respond to the strikes on the keyboard.
Sound Art at Caramoor
Trimpin’s work first appeared at Caramoor in 2014’s In the Garden of Sonic Delights, Caramoor’s first major sound art exhibition. Curated by Chicago based sound artist and Northwestern University professor Stephan Moore, the exhibition included the work of 16 sound artists and launched what has, over the past six years, developed into an integral part of Caramoor’s adventurous programming. “That huge infusion of sound art showed everyone that sound art could complement the diverse programming here,” says Moore, who has continued as the curator of Caramoor’s current sound art program Sonic Innovations. “We knew that sound art could add an extra dimension to this place, so you might come to hear the symphony and have a picnic, and while exploring the beautiful grounds you would encounter these other forms of art. There’s a lot of room at Caramoor for permanent sound art that brings out the best of the space and the artists, and brings that to the audience.” While sound art has thrived for decades in cultural venues, museums, and public spaces, Caramoor is unique in the U.S. for having multiple works of sound art installed in an outdoor concert and garden setting as a permanent exhibition. This would certainly be a profound source of pride for Caramoor’s founder Lucie Rosen, who was deeply interested in all areas of the arts including championing composers of her time working with sound and technology. For Moore, this ongoing exploration of sound art brings a bit of Lucie’s eclectic set of interests into Caramoor every year.
Who is Trimpin?
Gerhard Trimpin — known since the 1960s by the single moniker Trimpin — is an internationally acclaimed composer, musician, visual artist, and inventor, engaged in commissions and exhibitions at venues around the world. Born in 1951 and based in Seattle for the past 25 years, he grew up near the German Black Forest, an area that has a history rich in mechanical music machines (think cuckoo clocks and pianolas, or player pianos). Fascinated with sound exploration in his early childhood, Trimpin often experimented with sound and distance in the German woods. Using the tools from a well-stocked cabinetry shop in his home (his father was a cabinet maker by trade), he took apart and reassembled old radios and musical instruments. By age 10, he was inventing his own eccentric instruments. The son of amateur musicians, the young Trimpin learned to play brass instruments but developed a mysterious allergy to metal that forced him to give up playing. He turned to electromechanical engineering. Self-taught, he mastered how the memory works on a pianola and devised a machine that could transcribe and preserve the piano paper rolls digitally. He became a leading specialist in combining musical compositions with computer technology. Throughout his career he has created installations that incorporate complex technological sculptural elements. On permanent display in his hometown area are: If VI was IX, a sound sculpture composed of 600 electric guitars at MoPOP (Museum of Pop Culture); Hydraulis, an elegant interactive water sculpture at the Seattle Center Key Arena; and On: Matter, Monkeys, and the King, a multimedia kinetic wind-up-toy structure next to the rolling walkway in Sea-Tac International Airport. In his 2014 In the Garden of Sonic Delights installation, The Pianohouse, Trimpin wanted to create a piece that every visitor could feel free to explore. What he created was a house-like structure from the frameworks of six upright pianos. “I try to use other ways to make the sculpture look not so much like a musical instrument, so people will actually play,” Trimpin explains. “For instance, why is there a wheel here and what happens when you turn it?” He hopes Caramoor visitors will approach in “C” with that kind of curiosity. “My work is an ongoing exploration of the concepts of sound, vision, and movement,” he says, “experimenting with combinations that will introduce our senses of perception to a totally new experience.” A MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Award recipient and a Guggenheim Fellow, Trimpin has been commissioned by Lincoln Center, San Francisco’s Exploratorium, Merce Cunningham Dance Company, and Seattle Symphony, among others.
In “C” is sponsored by Nancy S. Offit, Laureen and David Barber, Shanbrom Family Foundation, and Tina and Ian Winchester.
The 2021 Sonic Innovations Exhibition
In “C” is one of six sound art pieces at Caramoor this summer. Walk around and explore them all.
Undercurrent by Spencer Topol and Hana Kassin (2020)
creates a feedback loop between people and their environment. An orchestration is built up through the movement of visitors via the activation of small pods in the grass and trees, which come alive with sound. (Center Walk by the Venetian Theater)
Annea Lockwood and
Bob Bielecki’s Wild Energy (2014)
begins with solar oscillations recorded by the
SOHO spacecraft, sped up 42,000 times, ending with ultrasound recorded inside a pine tree, slowed down. (Behind picnic area) (sponsored by Angela and William Haines)
Stone Song by Ranjit Bhatnagar (2014)
is a dry stone structure with sensors for temperature and barometric pressure laced into it and fed into a drone synthesizer. The tones emanate from the stones, shifting as the weather changes. (Friends Field) (sponsored by Hillary Martin)
turns a quiet, wooded passage into a shimmering sonic environment. Its sounds are derived from bell chimes manipulated to create a sense of time slowing down as one approaches the middle of the path. (Cedar Walk) (sponsored by his family In Memory of Peter Kubicek)
Listen Ahead by
Miya Masaoka (2019)
is first encountered through traffic signage that anticipates a space for listening. Later, in a wooden hut, the listener rests on a bench as sounds from nature create a unique sound experience. (Sunken Garden)