Steel cello / Bow chime Produced by David Chapman & Adrian Palka
A documentary on the performance work of Bob Rutman, Adrian Palka and Wolfram Der Spyra
Duration: 30 minutes
The Steel Cello and Bow Chime were made by US abstract expressionist painter Bob Rutman in the late 1960s.
They grew out of an artistic collaboration with musician/artist Constance Demby for the exhibition ‘Space Mass’,
at Rutman’s New York gallery. Rutman conceived them as musical-sculptures, a form in which both their visual presence
and sound qualities are of equal and inseparable importance. They were designed as objects to be played and it’s from this combination that their unique qualities arise.
Since the 1970s Bob Rutman has produced a continuous stream of recordings and live performances. The Steel Cello and Bow Chime are extremely versatile and performances have been shown in a remarkable range of locations. These include major museums and arts galleries, such as MOMA, New York, and the ICA, London, as well as Coventry Cathedral and the Tiergarten road tunnel in Berlin.
Their versatility also leads to a wide range of interdisciplinary collaborations. In the 1970s and 1980s when Bob Rutman was based in the US, he collaborated with major performing artists and directors including Robert Wilson, Merce Cunningham and Peter Sellars. Since moving to Berlin in 1987 the Steel Cellos and Bow Chimes have been used in major musical theatre productions such as Walden by Heiner
Goebbels, dance collaborations with Tanzfabrik Berlin, and a tour with the band Einsturzende Neubauten. They are regularly seen at art
and cabaret events in Berlin and indeed through out Europe. There is also a Steel Cello in the collection of major German contemporary art collector, Erich Marx.
There are several other practitioners who work with versions of the Steel Cello and Bow Chime and two of them are also featured on this DVD. Adrian Palka has been performing with the Steel Cello and Bow Chime since a London based collaboration with Bob Rutman in 1996. He currently works with Mark Bowler, a music graduate from Coventry University. Their work operates across a number of interdisciplinary projects and explores relations between sound, video projection and live performance. Wolfram Der Spyra is a musician and sound artist from Kassel in Germany. In his work he incorporates the Bow Chime as a sound source integrated into a keyboard and computer based set-up in the live performances of electronic music.
The original steel cello was constructed out of an 8 by 4 foot piece of sheet matte steel. The steel vibrates when the string is bowed. It produces sounds which range from deep drones to high-pitched squeaks. It is capable of producing subtle micro-tones and delicate harmonic overtones as well as overwhelming crashing cacophonies. The Bow Chime works on a similar principle to the Steel Cello. A horizontal steel sheet is made to vibrate through the action of a bow on vertical, tuned steel rods. Recent experiments at Coventry University with infra-sound expert, Vic Tandy, have recorded infra sound levels down to 2 Hertz, well below audible levels. It is possible that the emotional impact of the sounds is enhanced from sub sonic frequencies sub-consciously registered by the brain and organs of the body.
© 2004 David Chapman & Adrian Palka