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Instruments Played by the Ocean


article-imageImage from the 1884 "Atlantic Ocean Pilot" (via British Library

The ocean has a rich rhythm, but it's something that's hard for us humans on land to connect with. Yet in three different places we can hear this movement through music. In Croatia, San Francisco, and England, the shores contain instruments played by the waves.  

Zadar, Croatia

article-imagephotograph by Mike Reger

Zadar, Croatia, has its Sea Organ leading right into the water. Designed by architect Nikola Bašić and opened in 2005, it uses some 35 pipes of different sizes that are louder or softer depending on the turbulence of the sea.

Some people say the sounds are like whale calls, but whatever they are is haunting and airy with a touch of melancholy. The steps of the organ, which are lined with perforations to let out sound, were cut into a somber concrete wall installed during post-World War II restorations. Adding to the revival of the sea shore is another work by Bašić — the Sun Salutation — which has glass panels collecting sunlight all day to put on an ethereal light show representing our solar system. 

article-imagephotograph by EyeofJ/Flickr user

San Francisco, California

article-imagephotograph by Simon Gibson

Over in the San Francisco Bay, the 1986 Wave Organ is the Sea Organ's precursor. Created by artists Peter Richards and George Gonzales, it turns the bay's buoyant movement into a sonorous island. 

The organ's jetty is actually built from granite and marble that is all that remains from a cemetery that was destroyed. It's not quite as elegant as the newer Sea Organ — its over 20 pipes that go into the water are PVC and concrete — yet its sound is low and rich. It responds to the changing tides, with lower being bubbly and the higher more resounding, impacted by the resonating air. 

article-imagephotograph by Jennifer Boyer

Blackpool, England

article-imagephotograph by R. Lee

Finally, standing at a towering 49-feet-tall, we have the High Tide Organ on the New Promenade of Blackpool England. Constructed in 2002 from metal and concrete, it was designed by Liam Curtin with John Gooding.

Curtin previously created a sound fountain in Manchester, and the High Tide Organ uses, as its name suggests, the rising of the high tide to force air up its 18 pipes. While sometimes it is silent, other hours it fills the seaside air with an otherworldly sonorous song. 

article-imagephotograph by Ali Harrison


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