Utne Blogs > Arts and Culture

The Art and Sound of Obsolescence

by Will Wlizlo


Tags: Arts, Sculpture, Obsolescence, Steven White, Musicworks, Will Wlizlo,

The harvesting machine whirs to life. Mechanical arms extend and retract, rusty cogs knuckle past each other and greasy chains creak on an endless loop. Despite a flurry of clockwork motion, the machinery is immobile. That’s because these spare combine parts have been repurposed as contemporary art, reassembled as interactive music makers, and relocated to the gallery floor. The “Combine Project” is the brainchild of Steven White, an Ontario-based visual artist profiled by Musicworks. White got the idea to convert an obsolete artifact of our agricultural past into a collection of fanciful kinetic sculptures when he and his wife moved to some property in rural Ontario. There they found the farm equipment—specifically a hulking, abandoned 1964 Allis-Chalmers All-Corp combine harvester. Sprockets, gears and valves on many of the pieces are interactive, and when you crank them, the sculptures produce an eerie, mechanical kind of music. Here are a few of White's creations and a clip featuring “Molecular Roulette,” a sculpture that looks and works like a bizarre, 6-foot-long music box. (Right-click the link and select "Save Link As" to download an MP3 of White’s machines in motion.)

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"Happy Apple Tree" is a kinetic sculpture made from the odd parts of abandoned farm equipment by Canadian visual artist Steven White.

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Made from a segmented drive-shaft cover, "Brian's Arc" is modeled after a human spine in a resting position.

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A monstrous piece called "Spider Bark."

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"Insect Variation," named for its structural likeness to a grasshopper, conveys the tension between technology and the natural world.

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White wrote in Musicworks that "Tooth Organ," pictured above, "reuses a crank, two chains, several gears, and graduated metal tines from the combine to produce a sonic mashup that sounds like a blend of a home radiator pinging and a tin cup being rattled on metal jail-cell bars."


Source: Musicworks

Photos courtesy of Steven White. Audio courtesy of Musicworks.