Sneak a peek at NMC’s public art project

November 27, 2015

In October 2013, NMC released a Request For Qualifications (RFQ) to find a suitably qualified and experienced artist(s) or artist team(s) to create a permanent, integrated public artwork at the new home of NMC.

NMC’s expectation for the public art component was to find an artist who would be able to create a work that would be conceptually challenging, contemporary, engaging, and thought provoking. Furthermore, the chosen artist would be cognizant of ways the artwork would integrate with NMC’s new building project (Studio Bell), and inspire the public to explore and learn how music makes them think and feel.

From the 70 submissions received from around the world, award-winning artist and sculptor Patrick Marold was chosen as the artist to commission NMC’s public art project.

Read on to learn more about the artist and get a sneak peek into his NMC public artwork project titled “Solar Drones.”


The Artist

Artist’s bio: “Patrick Marold, a native of Colorado, has been working as an artist and primarily a sculptor since earning a BFA from Rhode Island School of Design in 1997. From the very beginning, his artistic development has maintained an intimate connection to landscape, extending the environmental traditions unique to post-minimalism. Refinement of his practice has been pursued in various locations in America and abroad, most notably including an apprenticeship under Andy Goldsworthy in 1998. He has been the recipient of various grants and awards including a 2000 Fulbright Fellowship in Iceland where he began to more fully direct his energies to creating works that utilize spatial dynamics to generate an enhanced perception of light and movement.”

Marold’s works have received international attention including “The Windmill Project,” a temporary landscape installation in Vail, Colorado that was recognized as Best of Public Art 2007 by Americans for the Arts. He repeated this accomplishment in 2012 with his sound and light performance work “Virga.”
The Windmill Project from Patrick Marold on Vimeo.


In addition to his work on the NMC public art project, Marold was selected for a commission to create a large-scale installation at Denver’s International airport. “Shadow Array” is a sculpture made from over 200 reclaimed pine beetle kill spruce logs that will surround the new train platform linking the airport to Denver’s downtown. The artwork can also be seen from the newly constructed hotel and the public spaces to the south of the plaza.
Shadow array evening time-lapse from Patrick Marold on Vimeo.


The Concept

“Solar Drones” will consist of 16 resonant vessels suspended from the ceiling of the NMC +65 Skybridge. Mounted on the roof of the bridge will be a series of photovoltaic panels (solar panels) that will power each vessel. Each resonant vessel is built from a salvaged soundboard of a de-accessioned and flood damaged piano taken from the NMC’s collections. Visually, these soundboards create an interesting sculptural element to the work.


The "Solar Drones" are activated by sunlight and influenced by cloud cover and shadow patterns. Photo credit: Patrick Marold

The “Solar Drones” are activated by sunlight and influenced by cloud cover and shadow patterns. Photo credit: Patrick Marold


Here’s how “Solar Drones” work:

  • Each solar panel would be “assigned” to each of the 16 resonant vessels. They activate with varying intensities that correspond to the intensity of the sun, depending on the time of day and season, as well as the presence of clouds.
  • Each soundboard vessel will create a sustained tone—or drone—that is generated through an electromagnetic system directly powered by the sun. The position of the vessels and their composition together with the vibrating music wires will determine what is heard.
  • The wires will be ferromagnetic strings—or piano wire—that can accept and respond to the electromagnetic system. These vibrations create the sounds one will hear while standing in the Skybridge.
  • The design is acoustic, and is amplified without electronic loudspeakers.
  • Over the course of the day, the vessels will sound at different times depending on the angle of the sun and conditions of the sky. The listener would experience a multitude of harmonics and layers depending on how much time they spend in the Skybridge. It would also produce varying experiences while passing through the hallway as opposed to standing in one spot.

The artwork essentially turns light into sound, whereby Calgary’s characteristically ever-changing skies will compose the sounds of the skybridge based on sunlight and cloud cover. At night (or during very cloudy or overcast days), “Solar Drones” will be silent.

Artist statement: “My work sharpens the dynamic exchange between our surroundings and our resulting perceptions…Primarily I am designing the “Solar Drone” concept to provide both a visual and audible experience in the [+65 Skybridge] walkway during the daylight hours.”


A Sneak Peek

I had the honour of travelling to Marold’s studio in Denver in November 2015 to check out the progress of “Solar Drones.” The project was set up in the studio to mirror how they will be installed at Studio Bell. The solar panels were positioned on the roof of the studio to power the soundboards, which have been placed on the ceiling for testing, tuning, and sound experimentation.


16 soundboards “droning” above Patrick Marold’s studio space in Denver, Colorado. These soundboards will be placed in NMC’s +65 Skybridge in 2016. Credit: Patrick Marold.

16 soundboards “droning” above Patrick Marold’s studio space in Denver, Colorado. These soundboards will be placed in NMC’s +65 skybridge in 2016. Credit: Patrick Marold.


Soundboards salvaged from NMC’s flooded basement in 2013 have found new life in Marold’s public artwork. Credit: Patrick Marold.

Soundboards salvaged from NMC’s flooded basement in 2013 have found new life in Marold’s public artwork. Credit: Patrick Marold.


Entering Patrick’s studio for the first time and hearing the drones was incredible. The hum and chiming sounds of the soundboards reminded me of time spent in my grandparents living room with their collection of mantel and cuckoo clocks. The drones produced a sound very similar to the sound of the din coming from the last chimes of those clocks. It was a pleasantly familiar sound, one that was not mechanically produced by a clock, but by sounds transformed from the sun and the sky.

Well what does it sound like? Here is a sneak peek at what the drones sound like, recorded during one sunny day in Denver.


Patrick Marold and his team are scheduled to install the infrastructure for the “Solar Drones” project in late February 2016, followed by a period of testing and finishing the final touches on the installation into March.


Photo gallery

  • Patrick tuning drones

    Adjusting piano wires on one of the 16 soundboards in his studio. Credit: Chad Saunders.

  • Patrick and Mathius tuning

    Patrick Marold and Mathias Leppitsch tuning the soundboards. Credit: Chad Saunders.

  • Patrick sitting on ladder

    Patrick Marold is listening to the "Solar Drones” in his studio. Credit: Chad Saunders.

  • Garage open soundboards

    View from inside Marold’s studio in Denver. Credit: Chad Saunders.

  • Patrick holding ladder

    Patrick Marold ensuring that NMC’s Chad Saunders safely descends from his studio rooftop. Credit: Chad Saunders.

  • Patrick, a view of downtown and solar panels

    Patrick Marold on his studio rooftop with the "Solar Drone" solar panels. Credit: Chad Saunders.

  • Downtown and solar panels

    Solar panels have a great view of Downtown Denver from Marold’s studio rooftop. Credit: Chad Saunders.

  • Chad and solar panels

    The 16 solar panels on Marold’s studio rooftop activate the soundboards. Credit: Patrick Marold.

  • Ladder to roof

    Climbing the ladder to check out the solar panels on Marold’s studio rooftop. Credit: Chad Saunders.

Stay tuned for more information on “Solar Drones” by signing up to NMC’s newsletter below.


–Chad Saunders

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