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Paul DeMarinis

American, b. 1948

Pygmy Gamelan

Electronics, plexiglass, and speaker
1.5 x 7 x 4.5 in. (3.81 x 17.78 x 11.43 cm)
Gift of the Kathryn C. Wanlass Foundation

A pioneering artist in the field of electronic media, Paul DeMarinis began making interactive sound sculptures in the early 1970s. Pygmy Gamelan, considered to be his most significant early achievement, is one of approximately a dozen artworks, all given the same title, that produce musical tones as they interact with the invisible electromagnetic fields of radio waves that happen to be occurring at the time and place the sculpture is in operation. A digital/analog hybrid, Pygmy Gamelan was built using simple consumer electronics, with each of its four units containing its own synthesizer, amplifier, and loudspeaker. Working together, these components produce repeating five-note melodies that vary as they interact with the ambient radio waves. When the device is electronically powered by a twelve-volt battery, a sound composition is produced, evolving and changing randomly while heightening our awareness of cosmic energies that we cannot see, but only hear.

DeMarinis originally conceived of his invention as a marketable consumer entertainment product that could be installed in a car dashboard as an alternative to a common radio. References to the experience of a rural road trip, in fact, appear on the sculptureā€™s side panel in renderings of a farm, a truck, and a tractor. From 1974 through 1977, following a failed attempt to attract the interest of a Detroit auto dealer, DeMarinis exhibited installations of the Pygmy Gamelan sculptures in contemporary art galleries, with each sculpture tuned to a different set of pitches.

David S. Rubin

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