Playing the Sun: Patrick Marold installs “Solar Drones” in Studio Bell

June 28, 2016

Chad Saunders, NMC Director of Operations and Special Projects (left), and Patrick Marold (right) standing in front of the “Solar Drones” on the day of the unveiling. Credit: Brandon Wallis

The lulling drone of ambient sound fills the East Village Skybridge inside Studio Bell, a sound propelled by an unlikely source—the sun.

On June 27, Colorado artist Patrick Marold unveiled his sound sculpture, titled “Solar Drones,” a public art piece commissioned by the National Music Centre (NMC).

In 2013, NMC put out an international call for RFQ submissions. With a background in landscape-inspired work and site-specific art pieces, Marold was chosen out of 70 submissions from around the world.  His concept, Solar Drones, aspired to turn components of the sun into music using reclaimed soundboards from NMC’s collection, which were damaged during the 2013 flood in Alberta.

A solar drone, as Marold explains, is a combination of solar panels, electromagnetic currents and piano wire. Powered by the energy from the sun, the musical vessels create consistent musical notes that are not always obvious unless you know what to listen for. The weather dependent vessels will not always be present in the bridge. Once a cloud rolls over the sun, the piano wire will stop vibrating and the note will rest.

“I think there’s something interesting about that disappointment or that feeling you get when it’s not there,” says Marold. “You value [the sound] more and there’s an interesting emotion in that. You will get to notice the great exceptional days.”

To achieve certain tones, Marold went through a series of tuning processes, first with the prototype that he housed in his studio, and then in the Skybridge once the art piece was actually installed.

“Every box, every vessel, has a note that it prefers,” says Marold. “I can almost start to hear the character of each one.”

That character is further enhanced by the materials the drones were made from.

NMC was one of many organizations affected by the 2013 Alberta flood. A total of 143 pianos had to be moved after the flood, some of which were damaged. In an effort to bring life back into the artifacts, Marold used salvaged spruce from damaged piano soundboards to create the “Solar Drones.”

Marold was careful to keep the original character associated with the pianos, and he kept a wide variety of sizes and scales associated with the drones.

“Some are named after people involved with the project or artists that I enjoy,” he says. “They all have a lot of character, so it seemed right to give them a name.”

Marold hopes in the future that NMC Artists in Residence will use the “Solar Drones” as part of their musical exploration. By changing the direction that the drones are facing, different sounds can be produced, allowing the vessels to be adjusted and improved upon. “Like an instrument,” he says, “one must learn how to play it.”

Aside from the possibilities the public art piece has for creation, Marold just wants the public to engage with sound.

“Some people will walk past it and it may enhance that experience on the bridge for a moment, and that’s enough for me,” he says.

–Carolyn Gillette

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