I-beam music

I-beam string instrument

by Nicolas Anatol Baginsky & Barry Schwartz

I-beam music originally was a performance project, created in july 1995 by Baginsky and Schwartz at Kampnagel (internationale Kulturfabrik) in Hamburg/Germany. During creation of this piece, many ambitioned workers joined forces with the two artists to create this uniqe spectacle. I-beam music touches many topics, it is about very low frequencies and long sustain. It is also about how our audible world responds to chemical and physical alterations (absence or presence of grease, temperature changes ...).

"I-Beam Music" is a performance, that explores acoustic phenomena using old and new technologies. "I-Beam Music" is an orchestrated sculpture, an installation, that deals equally inventive with water, high voltage, fire and chemicals as well as with machines, computers and sensors. "I-Beam Music" is the tittle of a computer driven machine-performance developed by hamburgian sculptor Nicolas Anatol Baginsky in collaboration with the californian performance-artist Barry Schwartz.

The central element in this installation is a string instrument, the artists have build using a 4 meter long steel I-beam . During the performance, the six-string instrument undertakes an automatic journey through an environment 25 meters in length. Similar to the functional principle of a car-wash, the string instrument travels through different situations and is being played there in very different ways: mechanical fingers pick the strings, chemicals create tones, extreme heat and cold tune the instrument. Dry ice and liquid nitrogen as well as parts of an old photocopier play the strings. In a later section, the combination of water and high voltage generate electrifying sounds. On its travel, the instrument develops various characters. For example: it turns into a bottleneck-guitar, then it becomes a bowed string-instrument and towards the end it is a "industrial- music" type sound generator. The artists also use related machinery and instruments to orchestrate the performance: a converted turntable mounted to an electro vehicle uses the motion momentum to generate music. A wheelbarrow is turned into a sound harp.

A computer program forms the acoustic environment for the performance. This program, written by Baginsky especially for this project, analyses in real-time all acoustic events in the performance space. The resulting data is then being interpreted and output via electronic instruments and robotic actuators. This mechanism engineers a recursive symphony based upon existing sound and music.

Several surveillance cameras inside the I-beam instrument and at various positions in the set allow endoscopic insight into the installation. The images are life-mixed by a computer and are then displayed by two video projectors.

Nicolas Anatol Baginsky and Barry Schwartz are both artists that, in their way of working, combine the artist, the engineer and the technician. What they have in common is an extraordinary attraction towards the graveyards of industrial society: containers filled with junk machinery. As a result to that strategy their biggest common divisor becomes visible: beautifully engineered machine music. A machine music that explores the extremes of music and technology.

This vrml/html version of I-beam music was compiled by Baginsky using sounds from a later version of this performance (Baginsky at Eisfabrik Hanover/Germany August 1996). All photography by André Lützen exept videostills.