An annual exhibition of sound art marks the continuing expansion of Caramoor’s programming. For the current exhibition, artists have worked with sonic materials outside the traditions of concert music, and each artist draws inspiration from their chosen location.
Among them is Trimpin, an internationally acclaimed composer, musician, visual artist and inventor.
When Trimpin was first asked to create a permanent sound art sculpture in celebration of Caramoor’s 75th anniversary, he thought about Caramoor’s acoustical environment — the birds singing, the wind in the trees and the blissful absence of street noise. He then conceived of it in “C,” the interactive kinetic sculpture shaped as a 16-foot-high double letter C, now located in the entry plaza, welcoming guests as they arrive.
From the top of the C’s curve, 24 tuned metal bell chimes ranging over two octaves are suspended. Made out of steel and utilizing electromechanical components, the work interacts with visitors through a motion sensor and through the physical activation of a push-button panel. The push buttons activate the structure’s chimes to play pr-composed short pieces, each 1- to 2-minutes long; a MIDI keyboard also allows visitors to play their own tunes.
Trimpin’s work first appeared at Caramoor in 2014s “In the Garden of Sonic Delights,” Caramoor’s first major sound art exhibition. It included the work of 16 sound artists and launched what has, over the past six years, developed into an integral part of Caramoor’s programming. “That huge infusion of sound art showed everyone that sound art could complement the diverse programming here,” said Stephan Moore, the Chicago-based sound artist and Northwestern University professor who curated Caramoor’s first sound art program. He has continued in that role with the current exhibition, which is titled “Sonic Innovations.”
“We knew that sound art could add an extra dimension to this place, so you might come to hear the symphony and have a picnic, and while exploring the beautiful grounds you would encounter these other forms of art,” said Moore. “There’s a lot of room at Caramoor for permanent sound art that brings out the best of the space and the artists and brings that to the audience.” Caramoor is unique in the U.S. for having multiple works of sound art installed in an outdoor concert and garden setting as a permanent exhibition, according to the Katonah performing arts center.
Trimpin was born in 1951 and grew up near the German Black Forest, an area that has a rich history in mechanical music machines, such as cuckoo clocks and pianolas, or player pianos. Fascinated with sound exploration in his early childhood, he often experimented with sound and distance in the German woods. Using the tools from a well-stocked cabinetry shop in his home, where his father was a cabinetmaker, he took apart and reassembled old radios and musical instruments. By age 10, he was inventing his own eccentric instruments. Self-taught, he mastered how the memory works on a pianola and devised a machine that could transcribe and preserve the piano paper rolls digitally. He became a leading specialist in combining musical compositions with computer technology.
In his 2014 “In the Garden of Sonic Delights” installation, “The Pianohouse,” Trimpin wanted to create a piece that every visitor could feel free to explore. What he created was a houselike structure from the frameworks of six upright pianos. “I try to use other ways to make the sculpture look not so much like a musical instrument, so people will actually play,” Trimpin explained.
He hopes Caramoor visitors will approach “C” with that kind of curiosity. “My work is an ongoing exploration of the concepts of sound, vision and movement,” he said, “experimenting with combinations that will introduce our senses of perception to a totally new experience.”