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 due to dramatic drops in airline traffic 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, to be seen as a force of independence and liberation? 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 localized 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 and listen, to hear what is ‘said’ by the wind.

aeolian wind harp installation
Powerless Flight

At the invitation of Copper Leg Residency in north Estonia, I was offered the opportunity to build a permanent installation in the adjacent open field. After visiting the location I realized there was good potential for developing an 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 (other than some occasional maintenance).

a short document…

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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