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date: 22 November 2019


  • Hugh Davies


Generic name of a large number of sound sculptures constructed by Harry Bertoia in Bally, Pennsylvania, from 1960 (especially from 1965) until his death, in 1978. The pieces are all versions of the same idea. The lower ends of a square (occasionally rectangular) bunch of vertical flexible metal rods are welded to a flat brass base plate or mounted on a wooden base; in each sculpture the rods are nearly identical in length and are spaced at regular intervals within the square in rows of from four to about 30 (occasionally there are fewer rods—one model has only two, about 4.5 cm long). Different sound qualities are obtained, depending on the length of the rods (between about 12 cm and 6 metres), their diameter (thin wires to 6 mm bars) and spacing, the choice of alloy (including beryllium- copper and copper-nickel alloys) and the size and weight of the cylindrical caps that surmount the rods in many of the sculptures; small differences in any of these factors affect the sound substantially. The sculptures are played by touching, stroking or beating the rods, or by clasping them together and releasing them so that they strike each other; they can even be set in motion by the wind or by sympathetic vibrations. The sounds are resonant and sustained, evoking naturalistic associations that range from delicate rustlings to waterfalls and church bells. Normally many different models, capable of a wide variety of sounds, are placed in the same space. A limited edition of 50 copies was made of one of the last Sonambients, under the title ‘Sounding Sculpture’....

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