Explorations in Sound and Light

children play with light sensorsEver wanted to step inside an instrument and play it? With Jiffer Harriman’s Solarophone, recently installed inside the glass, steel and stone atrium of the Main Boulder Public Library, you can. Just wave your hand over an array of light sensors and the structure fills with acoustic sounds generated by the almost 40 devices installed in the glass and steel structure overhead.

An ATLAS PhD candidate, Harriman explains that Solarophone responds to fluctuations in light. Each of the almost-40 light sensors installed in the board is connected to a device in the surrounding structure. “Clouds, shadows and hands waved directly over the board elicit different responses. If you can cast a shadow, you can play it,” he jokes.

“Solarophone delights people of all ages,” says Kathy Lane, the programs, events and outreach coordinator for Boulder Public Library. “It’s transformed the Conoid entrance of the Main Library into a fun, interactive sound space.”

Such creative acoustic experimentation is nothing new to Harriman, who was recently named Boulder Public Library’s first maker-in-residence. He’s been exploring the use of interaction design technologies for music and art for years, and he’s worked under some of the most respected in his field, including MaxMSP author Miller Puckette, and Trimpin, a kinetic sculptor, sound artist and musician.

Harriman’s interest in the marriage of fabricated and found sound also went on display last fall in the ATLAS Black Box Experimental Studio as the SolidNoise Ensemble, which used digitally-controlled tapping, shaking and blowing to unearth musical potential in everyday objects. (The motley collection included a kitchen sink, a filing cabinet, a steel mailbox, an array of beer bottles, sheet metal and more besides.) In early summer, Harriman will be presenting a curated exhibit in the library’s Canyon Gallery, along with several local artists.

Harriman’s work revolves around a common theme of digitally-controlled sound immersion using new hardware designs to generate unexpected acoustic outcomes. The results resonate with his peculiar artistry, his technical virtuosity and his innovative creative vision. If you visit the library before the end of June, you should be able to catch this latest work; join our mailing list, and you’ll be in the loop the next time Harriman launches one of his musical creations.

By Grace Wilson

About the Artist
After earning a B.S. in electrical engineering from CU—Boulder, Harriman attended Stanford and completed a master’s in music, science and technology through the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. He then returned to CU, where he joined the ATLAS Institute to begin his PhD, advised by Michael Theodore, director of the ATLAS Center for Media, Art and Performance and associate professor in the College of Music.

Solarophone – Come Play! from Jiffer Harriman on Vimeo.