Aeolian Wind Harps

“Powerless Flight” aeolian wind harp installation

Powerless Flight / Jõuetu lend is in some ways, a response to the global pandemic events of spring 2020, where many instances of a “return to nature” were witnessed, from sightings of dolphins near Tallinn to great ‘waves of silence’ that were registered at numerous points around the planet due to dramatic drops in human induced noise. We associate being powerless with a sense of helplessness in situations where we lack command or control. But what happens when we turn this sense of being powerless around, releasing our need for systemic control and human dominance, to be seen as a force of independence and liberation? Powerlessness is generally the antithesis of the social and political dynamics that control most every aspect of our lives whether we like it or not, hence the strong association with helplessness. Almost without question, we then extend this sense of power to our supposed control over planetary forces of “nature”. This is much the approach to understanding the geophysical forces continually at work all around us. This is more obvious in dramatic cases such as with volcanoes or earthquakes, but the same is true for more ‘humble’ forces such as wind and rain. Each force, no matter how small or large, acts to form and shape earthly terrains. By intervening in these forces at a localised human scale, we are able to give a voice to the often unseen and unheard. But to do so, we must concede some of our own will to power. In what ways can we do this? One of the most basic is through listening. Much has been written about the significant role listening plays in human communication. But what about communicating with the non-human world, such as the that which can be heard as a consequence of naturally occurring earthly forces? This is the invitation behind “Powerless Flight”, to listen and to hear what is ‘said’ by the wind. Obviously my wind harp instruments are the intended focus, but they are the starting point. The invitation is to also extend your listening beyond, to all that is affected by the wind in all its mood and character. By doing so, we may relinquish some of our controlling desires and allow ourselves to be “powerless”to the more subtle meanings and messages that the wind has to offer.

aeolian wind harp installation
Powerless Flight at Copper Leg

Through the Copper Leg Residency in north Estonia, I was offered the opportunity to build a semi-permanent installation in the adjacent open field. After visiting the location I realised there was good potential for developing site-specific wind harps. Wind Harps or Aeolian Harps made are weather responsive, instruments that make air movement audible. The wind harps at Copper Leg Art Residency are designed to respond to a wide variety of conditions such as wind speed and direction. These conditions in turn affect the tonality, harmonics and loudness of the sound. The open field is an ideal context to which the harps dynamically respond with varied sounds, encouraging the listener to broaden their sensory experience of this environment. 

Durational listening is key to appreciating aeolian wind harp installations and to understand how different wind conditions shape the activation, tonality and volume of the instruments. Once ‘tuned’ to the environment, the harps will ‘translate’ or sonify the air movement at hand. This works entirely acoustically, with no external energy or human support systems adding an additional layer to the meaning of ‘powerless’.

Special thanks to Copper Leg for hosting, Janno Bergmann for assitence and Rae Vald for material support.

Two more versions of Powerless Flight have been installed in 2022. One in Portugal at the Gulbenkian Music Conservatory of Braga and the other in Leuwen, Belgium for the Hear Here festival of sound.

Powerless Flight at Hear Here in Leuwen, Belgium
Building wind harps during a workshop with students of Gulbenkian Music Conservatory of Braga
aeolian wind harp installation
The finished harps at the Gulbenkian Music Conservatory of Braga

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