Steam Infrastructure-Powered Music

A remarkable instrument was created this past New Year's Eve at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

(Steam tunnel music video)

On the advice of a friend here in New York, my wife and I went over to the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn on New Year's Eve to watch the school's underground steam infrastructure be transformed, temporarily, into a thunderous musical instrument. Somewhere between subterranean calliope and mutant wave organ, steam-powered explosions of sound threatened to deafen everyone as it turned 2010.

According to the Municipal Art Society, Pratt's steam-powered plant "is the oldest privately-owned, continuously operating, power plant of its kind in the country"—and, once a year, it gets turned into a gigantic musical instrument. One of the whistles used has even been repurposed from an old steamship, the S.S. Normandie.

The implication here, that you can attach pieces of musical instruments, and even old ship parts, to your city's existing infrastructure and thus generate massive waves of sound is pretty astonishing; this might be a very site-specific thing, to be sure, and something only Pratt has permission to do to its own steam tunnels, but the mind reels at the possibility that this could be repeated throughout New York.

Although not used as a weapon, this device reminds me of the Krang from The Tar-Aiym Krang, a 1972 novel by Alan Dean Foster.

The "machine" itself towered a hundred meters above them and ran the length of the auditorium, melting into the curved corners... Much of the machine was closed off, but Flinx could see dials and switches catching the light from behind half-open plates...

From above the dull metal plating of the machine an uncountable profusion of chromatically colored tubes ran toward the distant roof. Azure, peach, shocking pink, ivory, Tyrolean purple... Some were the size of a child's ty, small enough to fit over [the] little finger. Others looked big enough to swallow the shuttle with ease...

The gigantic pipes of the machine pulsed with anvillike ringings, circlets of lambent electricity crawling up their sides like parasitic haloes. They crackled viciously, much as ripping plastic foil...

Via the always-interesting BLDGBLOG.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 1/30/2010)

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