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Boston’s Pickup Music Project Interactive Music to the Public

Boston’s Pickup Music Project Interactive Music to the Public


Boston’s Pickup Music Project is an effort by a group of Boston artists to install interactive sculptures in public spaces, most of which are big instruments that passersby can play.

Boston’s Pickup Music Project is rethinking what public art looks and sounds like

It’s no secret that public art is extremely valuable to communities, for both the artist and viewer alike.

The Boston-based artists who founded the Pickup Music Project know this quite well, and have decided to take public art a step further into interactive music.

So what exactly is this group, and what curious instruments have they made for public enrichment?

What is the goal of Boston’s Pickup Music Project?

According to the pickup music community, their aim is to “make public spaces that allow for impromptu pick-up music-making, just as public basketball courts allow for pick-up basketball.”

There are a number of artists that work within the project, many of which also have experience in programming, acoustics, metalworking, music production and composition and, believe it or not, plumbing.

“Plus, we’re all practicing musicians,” says Daniel Joseph, director of the Pickup Music Project. “Combine our love of music, our strange skillsets, and our other favorite activity—building things—and you get the Pickup Music Sculpture.”

How is it connected to Henri Matisse?

The Pickup Music Project is the result of Paul Matisse, the grandson of famous French painter Henri Matisse.

Paul Matisse is a sculptor and inventor, who also invented the Kalliroscope, an art device and technique that shows how fluid flows.

In 1980, Paul Matisse built an original sound sculpture titled Musical Fence. His original work is constituted of tuned aluminum chimes secured into a concrete base. 

Installed on the city streets of Central Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the fence’s chimes invited passersby to come and ring them as they walked by, or to stop, stand, and play them more deliberately.

The musicians of the Pickup Music Project wanted to revive that concept of a shared music experience in a public space.

Musical Fence - Boston's Pickup Music Project
The Musical Fence has inspired people to play and share music in public parks in Boston and at music festivals. [Courtesy of Pickup Music Project]

Where can I see the works?

If you’re a fan of public interactive art, you’re in luck! There are a few installations from the group that are still up and running or in the process of installation.

Musical Fence

Officially titled The Musical Fence: Reprise, this work of art is a reimagining of the previous sculpture built by Paul Matisse. In short, it is a giant set of tuned, playable aluminum chimes within a concrete base. It is very popular among passing crowds.

The artists create several musical fences that have been installed at the Eaux Claires Music and Arts Festival and Tufts University in Somerville.

According to the Pickup Music Project’s website, the artists are working on new musical fences to install in 2020.

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Fluid Process

Fluid Process is an interactive art piece that is heavily based on technology and community.

Essentially, composers can compose music for a waterfall percussive device from their home computer through the use of an app. Nearby the actual art piece, the group installed an iPad that passersby can use to manipulate the water.

Viewers can also physically move and manipulate the percussive object that the water hits to make sounds.

The device made its debut at the Eaux Claires Hiver in 2017 and returned at the end of 2019. Moreover, the success of the installation may mean that the it will return later this year.

Currently, the group is working on new water-based rigs to debut at Gardner Museum in Boston.

The goal of the Pickup Music Project is to infuse community back into music, according to Joseph.

“As opposed to the headphone, which is solitary, sound in space is social. So hearing church bells ringing through a village, organizes social life in that town,” he says. “In a certain way, hearing a sound sculpture in a park or at a music festival, does something similar. It provides a shared sonic experience.”

Learn how to experience one of the Pickup Music Project’s instruments, or how you could create something similar in your community, at pickupmusicproject.com.

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