Heart Harps and Public Spaces


Pause is a project in San Francisco that seeks to create innovative public spaces.  The Exploratorium, a science museum in the city, is responsible for the installation we happened upon during our visit last weekend, at the intersection of Market and Yerba Buena.  It’s a two-piece sound-based installation that requires its viewers to participate – otherwise it’s no fun!


One piece is a bench that produces music, but only when two (or probably three) people sitting on it hold hands.  There’s circuitry, of course, and somehow the human connection completes the circuit.  The arm rests are part of the circuit too, and when sitters stroke the metal plates the bench produces a harp strumming effect – it’s not static music, the way participants move their hands over the plates is what produces different sounds.  It’s delightful to experience, and it makes passers-by smile.


Similarly, the other component of the installation is an echo chamber – it is actually two halves, each of which is something I’ll call an acoustic lens.  The occupants can speak to each other in even whispery voices even though the halves are separated by a plaza, many walking San Franciscans, and about 30 yards.  But their conversation with a partner will be private and audible to both parties.


Both pieces are engaging and interesting – our whole party took turns trying them out.  They are irresistible for all but the shyest among us.  I do love interactive public spaces – add a little music and acoustical interest and you can absolutely make people smile in the middle of urban density and bustle.

Thanks for reading.


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