House of Art builds new instrument out of century-old organ

“Gothic futurism” inspired the world’s first “Planar Anti-Calibration Resonator”
Published: Jun. 5, 2023 at 10:07 AM EDT
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BLUEFIELD, W.Va. (WVVA) -In Gary Bowling’s House of Art, a new musical instrument has been invented. But, you might find yourself stuck if trying to play a traditional piece of music with it. This new instrument is called the “Planar Anti-Calibration Resonator” Through the use of keys, knobs, and pedals, the resonator makes seemingly random noises that even experienced musicians may be surprised by, but that’s part of the fun.

“...It doesn’t always sound like they anticipated, like, the key won’t fire right, or it will get stuck, or it just randomly makes some sort of growling, screaming noise, and, you know, that’s the desired effect,” says Benton Spiker, the resident “electronics wizard” who is part of the two-person team with experience combining art and technology who built the resonator.

It took over a year to assemble this machine from a century-old pump organ and electronic scrap donated by Bluefield State University. Spiker says this demonstrates the House of Arts’ mission of turning trash into fantastic art.

“We were sort of guided by trash, right? We used the best trash and turned it into something that now is not trash. So that’s... I think that’s the main guiding principle here is reusing stuff that otherwise just would have been landfill,” says Spiker.

The look of the resonator was designed by Chris DeHart, the “artificer” of the group, who wanted it to look even more complicated than it is; only thirty percent is actually functional.

“It kind of goes with the theme of the recycled e-waste, you know, the obsolescence of technology becoming almost a mystique in the culture to where this stuff piles up and becomes mysterious,” says DeHart.

The designers call this “gothic futurism” and say it communicates a message about using technology like cell phones or artificial intelligence without fully understanding what they do.

“You have a situation where people are using technology that they don’t fully understand and so the technology appears to be more than it really is, right? I mean, I could explain every part of the resonator to somebody. But, if you don’t take... if you take it as a whole rather than its constitute parts, then it’s this big, wild, unpredictable machine and you don’t know what it’s going to do” says Spiker.

The House of Art is no stranger to unusual ideas like this one. Vicki Matthews Queen, the director and curator of the House of Art, says she liked the idea from its beginning – especially the gothic futurism influences.

“You are in the House of Art. We absolutely... All you have to do is walk through this building and you know, we don’t have to be sold on anything if it’s someone’s idea and they’ve got, you know, the imagination to take it where it needs to go, absolutely, why wouldn’t we stand right behind that?” says Queen.

Queen encourages people to stop by try the former organ for themselves and see what else the House of Art has to offer. She adds, the Planar Anti-Calibration Resonator is part of many themed landings in the House of Art, including circus and Ancient Egypt themed areas. If you would like to visit, Gary Bowling’s House of Art is open every Saturday from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm or by calling in advance. Admission is free.