Harmonitrees - Sky Macklay International Festival of Contemporary Music Warsaw Autumn

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As a musician and sound-obsessed person, I am constantly thinking about the physical properties of sound and the infinite possible ways that vibrating bodies can be manipulated to create different pitches, timbres, and shapes. The sonic image I had in mind as I conceived my harmonica sculptures was this: what would it sound like to be surrounded by harmonica players who could each play ten pitches at once without ever needing to breathe? My first germ of inspiration came from watching the flexible plastic wacky-waving-inflatable-arm-flailing-tube people sometimes seen along the highway advertising car dealerships. I wondered, what would it sound like if the air blowing through the wacky creature’s limbs was channelled through a harmonica? It could create an otherworldly harmonica sound that no human player could make. Many of them “playing” together could create rich and continuous walls of sound. Harmonitrees uses vinyl, fans, and deconstructed harmonicas to create an interactive environment that is whimsical yet intense. 

Visually, I used transparent plastic so that the listener/viewer can see exactly how the sound is being created, and can even see the vibrations. I chose pine tree shapes because I wanted a tall, yet structurally stable sculpture that bloomed upward and fell downward in a visual representation of the sonic envelope. Each harmonitree plays a single major triad, but because the tines do not stay perfectly in tune, the pitches become microtonally-chorused, and combining harmonitrees can create complex dissonances. I have now incorporated the harmonitrees into a piece of chamber music with my group Ghost Ensemble, and through workshopping this piece I discovered that hugging the trees creates an additional layer of rhythmic flexibility and another level of intimacy with the sculptures. I invite visitors at Warsaw Autumn to listen up close and far away, and also to gently hug the harmonitrees. 

Sky Macklay