Chime at Main Street Square

Pop-up sculpture lets you compose a special tune to share with downtown Houston

Pop-up sculpture lets you compose a special tune in downtown Houston

Chime Art Blocks-playing Chime
Creating music amid the bustle of downtown Houston.  Photo by Joel Luks
Chime Art Blocks
The instrument sits beside the METRORail line.  Photo by Tarra Gaines
Chime Art Blocks-interior
The Chime interior consists of pendulums and chimes.  Photo by Joel Luks
Chime Art Blocks-Duet
Two people can create a duet without ever seeing each other. Photo by Tarra Gaines
Chime Art Blocks-playing Chime
Chime Art Blocks
Chime Art Blocks-interior
Chime Art Blocks-Duet

Ready to make beautiful music together, Houston? Then, let’s meet at Main Street Square to play a tune on the art, as the new pop up interactive sculptural installation Chime lets us all become musicians and compose our own special melody to share with all of downtown.

Just recently popping up amid the Main Street Square Art Blocks, Chime looks a bit like someone built a cute wooden shack in front of the former Sakowitz department store building along the METRORail line between Lamar and Dallas Streets. That someone is Civic Harmony, a design team comprised of artist Dan Gottwald and urban designer Scott Watkins. Gottwald was in Houston for the Chime unveiling and talked about all the music we’ll be making this holiday season as Houstonians discover another reason to explore the streets of downtown.

As a sound artist, with degrees in sculpture and electronic music Gottwald’s objective is “to provide sculptural music” to cities and communities.

“I don’t like barriers of virtuosity or perfection or practice even,” he explained. “To release something like this into the world that you don’t need any specific musical training to make a really nice piece of music is kind of my goal. What I’ve done with Civic Harmony is to expand on that.”

Chime began as an experimental art piece created for the Market Steet Prototyping Festival in San Francisco, but has evolved since then so that the Houston Chime is the largest version yet. Gottwald’s initially had an idea of a big wall of “things you could hit, a big percussion instrument” but he was “really, really hesitant to leave hammers out for everybody or moving parts exposed to the general public.” Thinking outside the box for a time, he came up with a giant box-like solution.

“It just kind of dawned on me we could put everything on the inside of whatever it was we were doing and use a pendulum,” Gottwald described.

Two sides of Chime consist of vertical panels, a bit like the peddles of a piano, but they’re meant to be gently pushed with hands. Within the giant wooden instrument, the panels cause the pendulums to swing and hit the interior chimes. Just by giving the panel a slight shove a passerby becomes a musician, but don’t be surprised if your solo soon becomes a duet.

“You set the whole thing into motion,” said Gottwald, but also noted that both sides work “in conjunction with the other side. You push over here and it starts moving everything over there, in a one-to-one relationship. The size of this thing prevents you from seeing what’s going on on the other side and whether anybody is over there. You can generate some pretty surprising interactions.”

When I asked Gottwald if there was one instrument Chime reminds him of or that inspired him, he explained that some people think of a piano when they play it, others a glockenspiel, but for him it most resembles simple wind chimes, with humans as “the the wind that enacts the motion of everything.”

Chime will remain in Main Street Square until the first week of January, but we won’t necessarily hear the fading of its notes anytime soon. The Downtown District acquired this Chime version, and they plan to bring it back out to the streets of downtown on special and perhaps even everyday occasions. It takes a bit of dismantling and carting, but Chime is definitely transportable.

“We were looking for some more pop up installations to complement the four, year-long [Art Block] installations that we had in Main Street Square, and Chime had been on our radar for almost a year,” explained Angie Bertinot Houston Downtown Management District director of marketing & communications. “I love the idea of moving it around downtown,” she said and hinted that while nothing is definite, the Super Bowl might be another great time for visitors and local residents alike to discover an artful Houston and chime right in their own creative musical compositions.