Sound in the Frying Pan

May 7, 2009
Suzanne Thorpe


Musical composition is no longer confined to pen and paper. The emergence of the composer as sound artist signifies a new space for music. The composer / sound artist looks to activate a physical space with the calculations of an architect and the concepts of a sculptor, stimulating the senses with a multi-dimensional, multi-media approach that allows participants to be immersed in what becomes an experiential space.

Electronic Music Foundation is delighted to present a group of up-and-coming sound artists in an installation of five site-specific works. The installation will take place May 15 - 17. The works speak to and of their environment on board the historic lightship Frying Pan, docked at Pier 66 Maritime in Hudson River Park, at 26th Street on the West Side Highway in New York.

The Frying Pan

The Frying Pan was built in 1929. From 1930 to 1965, she guarded Frying Pan Shoals, her namesake, located 30 miles offshore from Cape Fear, North Carolina. According to the history at, her hull was designed to withstand storms and hurricanes that would send other ships to safe harbors. Fifteen men lived aboard ship to keep the light atop the mast burning and the foghorn sounding, regardless of the weather, season, or time of day. The crew was stationed aboard ship for three months, then given two months of shore leave. Some of the crew referred to it as a job "filled with months of boredom followed by minutes of pure fear."

Later, having been abandoned for ten years while docked at an old oyster cannery in Chesapeake Bay, she sank, because, it was thought, of a broken pipe. She was underwater for three years before being raised and sold to her present owners. In her owner's words, "After tons of silt and shells were removed from the hull, the ship was outfitted with a new engine and sailed to her current home, Manhattan's Westside. While the outside of the ship has been restored to her original appearance, the inside retains the barnacle-encrusted, sunken-ship motif that acknowledges her storied past."

Sound in the Frying Pan

For the sound-artists of Sound in the Frying Pan, the ship serves as inspiration, activator, and resonator for their compositions. In her piece Sirens, Jessica Feldman projects audio from the elephant ears of the ship to contrast the original function of the lightship, which was to warn sailors away, with the natural seduction of sound, luring listeners in, as did the Sirens in the Odyssey. In Underfoot, the trio of Melissa Clarke, Ben Owen, and Shimpei Takeda, with projections, sound and reflective materials, explores the aesthetic, poetic, and metaphorical possibilities in geophysical data garnered from the contours of the Hudson River bottom. Bart Bridger Woodstrup's Gathering Lore is a weather station that translates current climate conditions into sound. Collaborators Suzanne Thorpe and Philip White present Balancing Act, a psychoacoustic work that employs the list of the ship and the location of the listener to control their sounds. Finally, Richard Garet presents Inner-Outer, a composition of video projections on water combined with sonic constructions comprised of underwater recordings, focusing on sound and light as experience, creating an audiovisual environment that will expose visitors to a sensorial, perceptive, and subjective encounter.

Sound in the Frying Pan is an event in Electronic Music Foundation's ongoing effort to present events that explore new cultural roles for music and encourage artists to develop innovative methods and materials for composing.

For more information, visit the EMF Productions website.

EMF Productions