Harmonitrees is an interactive sonic and kinetic installation of inflatable harmonica-playing sculptures created by composer and sound artist Sky Macklay. This iteration of Harmonitrees took place at the Hand Art Center at Stetson University in DeLand, FL , in October of 2020.
Learn more about Sky at https://www.skymacklay.com
Videography by Tori Camera https://www.toricamera.com
Audio engineering and recording by Chaz Underriner https://chazunderriner.com
and José Moncayo Arteaga
Thank you to the Hand Art Center and Stetson students for your help!
As a musician and sound-obsessed person, I am constantly thinking about the physical properties of sound and the infinite possible ways that vibrating bodies can be manipulated to create different pitches, timbres, and shapes. The sonic image I had in mind as I conceived my harmonica sculptures was this: what would it sound like to be surrounded by 84 giant-mouthed harmonica players who could each play ten pitches at once without ever needing to breathe? My first germ of inspiration came from watching the flexible plastic wacky-waving-inflatable-arm-flailing-tube people sometimes seen along the highway advertising car dealerships. I wondered, what would it sound like if the air blowing through the wacky creature’s limbs was channeled through a harmonica? It could create an otherworldly harmonica sound that no human player could make. Many of them “playing” together could create rich and continuous walls of sound. Harmonitrees uses vinyl, fans, and deconstructed harmonicas to create an interactive environment that is whimsical yet intense.
Visually, I used transparent plastic so that the listener/viewer can see exactly how the sound is being created, and can even see the vibrations. I chose pine tree shapes because I wanted a tall, yet structurally-stable sculpture that bloomed upward and fell downward in a visual representation of the sound’s crescendo and decrescendo. The large scale of this piece works to transport viewers/listeners out of their everyday listening experiences and into the unfamiliar realm of the harmonitrees. Listeners can sculpt their own experiences by turning the sculptures on and off and collaborating with others in the gallery. Each harmonitree in the gallery plays a single major triad (F, G, A, B-flat, C, D, or E), making them consonant in isolation. However, combining harmonitrees can create complex dissonances. I invite visitors to listen in many different ways: frame your entire visit as a musical piece or hone in on a momentary sonic snapshot. Tilt you ears close to a harmonitree and hear the inner life of the sounds, or luxuriate in the middle of the space.