Constellate (2012)

A highly site-specific construction for the primary visitor’s elevator at the Tang Museum of Skidmore College, as part of their Elevator Music Series.

(The gallery website for my piece can be found here).

The following is the text from the booklet which accompanies the piece:

“Doug Van Nort has explored the resonant qualities of the Tang elevator by testing various sound sources inside it, listening to how sounds are transformed by the acoustic space and physical structure of the elevator. The result is a work, composed by the artist while inside the elevator, which blurs the line between sound delivery system and acoustic instrument in that there are no traditional speakers – but rather a set of physical objects, augmenting the elevator, which act as speakers themselves. A constellation of small objects are installed overhead to form a set of speaker-objects that are effective at transmitting crisp, distinct, mid-to-high frequency sounds. These objects are driven by a collection of audio transducers, which in turn vibrate the objects in the same manner as a speaker cone would vibrate the air in its path. Very low shifting drones are created by driving the elevator’s steel wall panels with a bass frequency transducer, allowing for a tactile experience that can include the rattle of the elevator itself. In this way, the resonant qualities of the elevator and the vibrating motions of the objects within it, come together with the sonic sources to define the piece. The minimal lighting focuses audiences on the sound phenomena without visual distraction. It further serves to evoke a sense of limitless space, encompassing the many constellations of sound that exist within the piece.

Constellate is an exploration of resonance, immersion, and the materiality of sound. It shepherds the listener through sonic terrains that are at once highly enveloping and filled with incidental moments, as it transforms the elevator into an electro-acoustical musical instrument.”

The piece was composed absolutely for the acoustic space and structure, and so was constructed while I sat in the elevator as in the below image. Additional images below show the vinyl label that provides the basic piece information, the piece in low lighting conditions, and also under brighter lights (when the elevator door was opened).

Audio documentation was also released as Constellate (Excerpt/Rework) on the Leonardo Music Journal 2014 Compilation “The Shape of Spaces yet to Come”

You can also see some basic video documentation taken with hand-held camera and built-in mic here.

I also gave a related workshop on sound sculpting with everyday materials.


Piece Creation:

Doug Van Nort


Elizabeth Karp