Art museum echoes with sound of sculpture

“Soundworks” by Seattle sculptor and composer Trimpin will be on display Feb. 17-April 9 at the WSU Museum of Art in Pullman. The artist, who legally shortened his name to Trimpin, will give a walk-through tour of the exhibit at noon on Friday, Feb. 17. An artist’s lecture and public reception will follow at 7 p.m. in the Fine Arts Center auditorium.

The artist researches and conducts experiments in musical, acoustical and sound sculpture design. Because of his innovative work in music composition, computer technology and design, he received a MacArthur “Genius” grant in 1997.

Trimpin’s “Sheng High,” a recently completed installation, will turn the entire museum gallery into a work of art and sound. The sheng, which was the first free reed musical instrument made of bamboo, was introduced centuries ago in China. It produces sound with a small reed that vibrates when activated by moving air. In “Sheng High,” water is used to push air in and out of bamboo pipe. Up to 40 large-scale pipes produce sound over a three-octave range.

Each bamboo pipe is suspended over a translucent water vessel by a teepee-shaped structure formed of 10-foot poles. As a pipe is mechanically raised and lowered, a melodic sound is produced from the air funneled through the pipe and across the reed.

The signal that operates the mechanism moving the bamboo poles is activated by a graphical wall scanner. Trimpin’s notes, formed with recycled CDs, are placed on the wall using the same concept as the player piano. The scanner relays the notes on the wall to the moving pipes, allowing the viewer to see and hear the composition simultaneously.

Since July 2005, and continuing through 2007, a consortium of 10 regional art institutions and organizations are presenting sequential exhibits of new and major past works by Trimpin. Some of the venues besides WSU include the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle, the Tacoma Art Museum and the Missoula Art Museum.

A 200-page full-color trade book has been produced for this exhibit by Marquand Books of Seattle and is distributed through the University of Washington Press. The publication documents Trimpin’s body of work and the regional installations. The book includes interpretive essays by noted scholars in the field of sound art.

Funding for this exhibit and programs has been provided by the Washington State Arts Commission and the Friends of the Museum of Art. For more information, visit the WSU Museum of Art website at

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