Friday, July 21, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Visual Arts

What would sound look like? Artist Trimpin has a vision

Special to The Seattle Times

Exhibit review

"Klompen," sound sculpture by Trimpin at the Frye Art Museum, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, noon-5 p.m. Sundays,

10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursdays, through Jan. 21, 2007, 704 Terry Ave., Seattle (206-622-9250 or

"SHHH," sound sculpture by Trimpin at Suyama Space, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays,

extended through Aug. 18, 2324 Second Ave., Seattle (206-256-0809 or

Trimpin, the German-born, Seattle-based and internationally recognized artist and composer, is known for his glorious hybrids of sculpture, music and kinetic art. His art and his 25 years of living in Seattle are being celebrated in a two-year retrospective in multiple venues across the Northwest. Two sound sculptures, currently on view at the Frye Art Museum and Suyama Space, offer pleasurable samplings of his varied body of work.

"Klompen" (traditional Dutch wooden shoes) is the wonderful name of a 1986 sound sculpture, now reconfigured and on view at the Frye Art Museum. To get a taste of how sound and wit play a role in the artist's work, try saying this out loud (as many times as you'd like): "Trimpin Klompen."

You might first experience "Klompen" visually, by seeing the 120 wooden clogs of various sizes and colors suspended by black wires from the ceiling in a cascading, pyramidal form. At times this installation is utterly silent and motionless, a manifestation that is quite satisfying in and of itself. But the crucial auditory experience can be activated by inserting a quarter into a nearby machine. Wooden mallets inside the clogs jump into motion, beating out engaging compositions of various rhythms and tones.

Trimpin has stated: "I am continually seeking new forms of expression, but many times using methods that may actually be ancient in origin." Here, each clog has a different sound, created by the different shoe sizes and by making narrow cuts through the tops of the shoes to adjust tones. These low-tech methods co-exist with computer programming and electromagnetic processes that activate the mallets in complex sequences.

Although the technology is complex and deliberately visible, the shoes also seem magical. Trimpin plays with our expectations and visceral reactions, our sense of how clomping clogs would sound if worn. Here they're hanging above the floor, barely moving at all, but still offering thunks and clicks in different compositions that last about a minute and a half.

The rhythms are so toe-tapping that they seem too short. I dropped $1.25 into the machine before another visitor came along to activate the installation. A sign states that the proceeds will go to Northwest Harvest and the Cherry Street Food Bank — it should be a sizeable contribution.

My 3-year-old said that the shoes are "fun because we don't walk in them. They make music!" Trimpin's work is sophisticated, both intellectually and technically, but the fundamental experience of many of his sound sculptures is instantly knowable and delightful.

While "Klompen" is rollicking, "SHHH," the installation currently on view at Suyama Space, is boldly quiet and initially more ambiguous. A brushed aluminum ball, larger than a typical office globe, rolls quietly around a circular track made of two blue metal rings suspended at eye level from the ceiling. A computerized pulley system lifts different sides of the rings at different times, so the ball travels up and down, slowly or quickly, around and around the track.

Knowing that Trimpin's work usually involves sound, you are incredibly tuned in to the quiet humming of the mechanics and the gentle whooshing sound of the sphere as it passes by you. The title is perfect — just like the act of someone shushing you, the sculpture calls attention to its own demand for quiet.

It's a mesmerizing work of art, graceful and industrial at the same time. It conjures up vague associations with planetary motion, roller coasters and the kind of ergonomic, kinetic toys that spin discs on wire handles. But in fact the underlying inspirations for the piece are very specific and scientific: it's an exploration of how sound might be visualized and an homage to the Pythagorean ratio of 2 to 1.

Music is referred to, but not actually present. The ball is programmed to move at speeds in the ratio of 2 to 1; when it is rolling at double speed, it suggests a shift in octave or tempo. The sphere and the rings that dip and rise become like an in-motion, three-dimensional musical notation system. You're not reading or hearing music so much as seeing it and physically sensing it.

"SHHH" and "Klompen" offer kindred yet contrasting perceptual pleasures: conceptual, aural and visual satisfactions that are tributes to Trimpin's phenomenal creative endeavors.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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