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Concrete harmonium

Concrete Harmonium, Wolverhampton Art Gallery

A permanent interactive installation in the Sensing Gallery at Wolverhampton City Art Gallery and Museum, Concrete Harmonium was completed in 2003. The central object, an antique harmonium, controls a computer. When the keys are pressed by the audience, they 'play' different objects. It produces a cocphony of sound and image with clips of music, video on monitors and sounds from an array of objects including a metal detector, two way radio microphones, cassette players, a trumpet filled with water, radios, and web cameras, to name a few. An eclectic mixture of found objects, sounds and interaction. The Sensing Gallery is a touching gallery and the audience are invited to play the 'Concrete Harmonium'.

The Use of Tactile Learning in Art Exhibits
Presented at the J. Paul Getty Museum Symposium, “From Content to Play: Family-Oriented Interactive Spaces in Art and History Museums,” June 4-5, 2005.
© 2005 Andrew Alvarez
 (pdf 24kb)

"Malcolm Buchanan-Dick’s The Concrete Harmonium provides a useful starting point for observing behavioral patterns among differing age groups within the family audience. The piece consists of an antique organ, surrounded by a wall of recycled objects – organ pipes, vacuum cleaners, personal stereos, radios, TVs, etc. Each key on the harmonium drives one of these objects, and users can manipulate sounds and videos by making their own recordings, or bringing in their own tapes to play in the stereos. On its first day, we observed children running straight to this piece, which has remained one of the most popular in the exhibition, and playing the keys, then often running to show another friend or family member how it works. By contrast, adult visitors have been observed looking intently at the work, reading the information labels provided, which explicitly instruct visitors to play the keys, and then walking away without making any physical contact with it.

What the Concrete Harmonium provides for our visitors is the notion, once their inhibitions have been overcome, that the work – and by extension, other works in the museum – are here to have meaning made from them by tactile interaction, not to resist divergent meanings with monolithic authoritative significance. We find that this actually helps to garner respect for the object and a desire to handle the piece intimately and carefully. "

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