Mechanical art. Andy would be so proud. “Cloud Piano” is an installation at artist David Bowen’s upcoming solo exhibition at L’assaut de la Menuiserie in Saint-Etienne, France, where a robotic sculpture translates the sky’s cloud cover into a musical piece.
Bowen used MaxMSP to take video of clouds and mapped it to a computer keyboard. In Cloud Piano, Bowen chopped the video into 88 different sections reflecting the keys on a piano. So whenever a cloud passes over that section of the keyboard, the machine presses the keys for the duration the clouds are over them. If there’s more white than blue detected, the key is pressed.
Tempo and rhythm is determined by how quickly the clouds are moving. The mood of the music, too, is based on how the clouds pass through the sky. If the clouds are moving one way, say north to south, the piano plays a cheery tune; but if the wind switches directions, the sound becomes dark and moody.
Bowen smartly programmed in dynamics based on the density of the clouds. The whiter the cloud, the louder the sound emitted. So if wispy cirrus clouds are the light tinkle of a Chopin nocturne, cumulonimbus are the passionate pounding of Rachmaninoff concerto.
Of course, the sounds coming from Bowen’s piano is less classical masterpiece than it is just noise. “I never really thought of it as music,” he says. “I’ve always thought of it as a sound installation more than anything.” That randomness is part of the charm, really. We humans have no actual control over what we’ll hear on any given day. So if the sky happens to be a clear, cloudless blue when you visit? “There’s no sound that day,” he says. “It’ll be very boring.”
Listen to the piece below.