Gone with the Wind: Thoughts on the Aeolian Organ

Gone with the Wind: Thoughts on the Aeolian Organ

By Jesse Stewart

In the Fall of 2010, I was honoured to have been asked by Susie Osler to contribute a piece to fieldwork, a beautiful outdoor art exhibition space near Perth, Ontario. I decided that I wanted to create a work that would draw on my dual background in the visual and sonic arts, so I created an Aeolian Organ consisting of tuned pipes ranging in length from roughly twelve to eighteen feet. These pipes are mounted vertically and are distributed across the field in such a way as to create a waveform across the horizon. Made out of 4-inch diameter black ABS pipe, the pipes elicit different tones as wind blows across vertical openings near the top of each tube. These openings are oriented in different directions such that shifts in wind direction activate different harmonics of different pipes, resulting in an ever-changing series of harmonies. The distal openings near head height on each pipe serve as listening holes for visitors to the site.

The pipes are tuned to a natural minor scale or "aeolian mode," named after Aeolus, the Greek god of wind. Although the pipes sound mainly on windy days, one can hear reflections of ambient sonic environment in each tube at all times in much the same way that children “hear the ocean” inside empty seashells. The length of each resonating pipe sculpts the ambient sound, reinforcing different portions of the harmonic spectrum. The piece thus draws attention to both the landscape and the soundscape in all kinds of weather, encouraging those who engage with the work to think about the relationships between themselves, the landscape, and the sonic environment.

On April 28, 2011—two days before I was slated to uninstall the work—severe winds swept through Southern Ontario, downing trees and injuring dozens of people. The winds—which topped speeds of 120 km per hour at times—knocked down several wind organ pipes, bending the ¾ inch galvanized steel rods supporting them in 90 degrees. I would have liked to have heard what that sounded like! I take this occurrence as a lesson in impermanence and a reminder of the extraordinary power of nature. In many ways, this is what the piece was about in the first place.

 My sincere thanks go to Susie Osler and the entire fieldwork collective for the opportunity to show this piece at their beautiful site.

Jesse Stewart April 30, 2011


Fieldwork Featured in the EMC and The Frontenac News this December

fieldwork, marc walter, the last sowers

fieldwork has been getting a bit of a 'nod' this month in response to our latest installation.  Amy Hogue from the EMC/Perth News and Julie Druker from The Frontenac News both came out to watch Marc Walter working on his creation,  'The Last Sowers' -  two 'figures' now gracing the end of the field...

Here are links to their articles:

  Fieldwork - Exploring the Possibilities of 'Land Art' by Amy Hogue

  New Work in Winter Fields by Julie Druker

Hope you have a chance to come out with your boots, skis or snowshoes and have a look this winter!


Sowers birth - Winter 2010

fieldwork, marc walter, The Last Sowers, les derniers Semeurs, site-specific


I stayed at fieldwork five days in a row, creating two large sculptures out of recycled materials: branches, fibres, soil, all found in the immediate surroundings of the site.

The idea is to evoke two beings that are inhabitants of this land. Part of a sort of tribe, they are the last ones to arrive, emerging from the woods and ready to sow the land for the next seasonal cycle. Upon visiting fieldwork and the already installed works in the pinegrove, I had a feeling of a site loaded with stories and fairytales; it made me want to tell my own.

Several aspects have guided my process. First, and as I often do, I want to encourage the visitors to penetrate deep into the field, thereby making an effort and demonstrating a willingness to engage on a path of discovery. I want to create the artworks at the back of the field, in a sort of bay. Second, given the scale of the space, it became very important to get the dimensions of my Sowers right: big enough to be noticed from afar and to fill the space between the field's sides, reasonably sized enough to be able to finish them in five days top. Third, I wanted them to have kinetic features to add some life to them.

Earth mounds were created to elevate the Sowers and to allow them to float over any snow. Branches from two already fallen trees (poplar and maple)  were woven to create the shapes. A few maple wips were cut to allow strength in the shoulder and arm of each sculpture. Dogwood was used to add color and density to the tops. Sisal and raffia fibres were used to extend both arms, to create moving lines in the wind and to evoke the sowing activity.

One of the main challenge was to make the best use of the brittle poplar and maple, which were really fragile. I am working with a year's duration in mind eventhough the sculptures are meant for a season. Many back and forth on beautiful local vintage orchard ladders allow to evaluate the proportions, the size, the elegance of the lines, the density of the work, the inter-relation between the two sculptures, and the actual making of the weaving of the branches.

In the end, I am satisfy with the emotion that The Last Sowers provide me and hope that their presence will invite passer-bys to stop, reflect upon the site, and discover the beautiful surroundings of fieldwork. I got soooo lucky with the weather that allowed me to work with a minimal use of gloves, no snow and bearly any rain. Susie Osler was amazing at providing support, comfort, and passionnate discussions. So were Cameron and Tim.

last sowers process

fieldwork, marc walter, the last sowers
fieldwork, marc walter, the last sowers
fieldwork, marc walter, the last sowers
fieldwork, marc walter, the last sowers
fieldwork, marc walter, the last sowers
fieldwork, marc walter, the last sowers
fieldwork, marc walter, the last sowers
fieldwork, marc walter, the last sowers

last sowers

fieldwork, marc walter, the last sowers
fieldwork, marc walter, the last sowers
fieldwork, marc walter, the last sowers
fieldwork, marc walter, the last sowers

'The Last Sowers' have arrived!

fieldwork, marc walter, the last sowers

Wakefield artist Marc Walter spent several days here at fieldwork this past week building two wonderful sculptures in the field.  Titled 'The Last Sowers',  two ghostly figures made of branches tower at the end of the field, beyond the black pipes of Jesse Stewart's 'Aeolian Organ'.   Marc made use of  materials found on site - recently cut maple, poplar, and dogwood branches - weaving and tying them together to create the large forms that seem to be emerging from the woods surrounding them.

"The field is resting and presents a feeling of vulnerability and emptiness.  It is colder, the colours are less, the smell of the earth is in the air.  Yet The Last Sowers are preparing the grounds for the next cycle....When I create my outdoor installations, I tremendously enjoy the rythmn of things.  It is an opportunity to slow down and to reflect on the cycle of life and death, to embrace the surroundings, and to realize passing emotions.  The Last Sowers are doing the same thing....Listen"

The quiet but insistant presence of Marc's Sowers invites us to get out into the field and  explore the subtleties of the landscape - the ground, the vegetation, the colours, and the sounds that they (the Sowers) have emerged from, and become a part of.

We hope you can make it out to the field this winter to explore the space and the installations our invited artists have created within it.  If not, click on the different galleries in the menu  to the right for more documentation of the various projects.

From Intention to Access

When I initiated Field of Play, on Gabriola Island in British Columbia, I realized that one of the primary challenges was gaining access to an open field. It quickly became clear that access to this kind of space could not be assumed and that it would have to be negotiated. Access, or lack of access, to open space was a privilege or needed to be linked to a clear expectation, a specific intention. What was I going to do with this open space?

I started recalling time spent in fields as a child in Ontario. At that time I didn't know who owned the fields I played in. I had experienced a kind of free license at that age - to explore and to roam across boundaries. I also remembered seeing signs that said “private property - keep out” in bold letters. As a kid I knew that crossing these barriers was equivalent to testing a boundary. I remembered the adrenalin rush of crossing over. Now as an adult, I was re-experiencing the private property barrier.

My hunt for space began with an effort to open my eyes to what was around me every day. I often passed by my immediate landscape but paid little or no attention to it. I started trying to slow down in order to look and listen. I say try because I also started to realize my tendency to rush everywhere!

I also quickly became aware of another challenge: noise pollution. The sounds of human activity: cars, planes, ferries, chainsaws etc. These noises cast a hard sonic shadow on smaller, more detailed sounds in the natural environment. I hoped to find a space that would allow me to achieve decent sound recording quality and also a space that I genuinely wanted to inhabit for extended periods of time. After several weeks of searching I was starting to worry – but after trying out several locations on the island I eventually spotted an empty field on a walk in my neighborhood. It was an empty property, between two homesteads, on a dead end dirt road. Skirted by forest on the south side the site was relatively quiet with tall grasses and many species of birds, insects, and flowers.

I made a conscious decision to try to get permission to access the space. My instinct was that how I accessed the space would directly influence the quality of inhabiting it. I spoke to several neighbours in order to determine who owned the land. Eventually I crossed paths with a young man coming out of the driveway of the neighbouring property. He told me that the property used to be jointly owned by his family and the neighbour on the other side but that the owner on the other side owned it now. He gave me his name.

The owners name was Earl and he turned out to be the Gabriola Ferry captain. He told me that the property was part of an original homestead belonging to a Colonel Marshall, used for farming, but that his family had let it go fallow for several years. He said his young girls really like spending time there, especially when it was full of daisies in the spring. He granted me access, saying that he would be happy if someone else got pleasure from it as well. I thanked Earl.

I had secured access to my "field of play".

CBC Interview With Jesse Stewart at fieldwork

Tune in to CBC radio One, 91.5 FM tomorrow, Tuesday November 9th at 8:10 am to hear CBC's Dipna Horra interview fieldwork  artist Jesse Stewart about his installation Aeolian Organ.

Later in the day you can find the archived review here:


fieldwork has become a geocaching site!

Over the weekend I was approached by a couple of geocachers to make fieldwork a geocache location.  For those of you who don't know about geocaching visit their site.  Basically, it is like a global treasure hunt.  Things are left at a 'cache' at specific locations that are found with GPS coordinates.  Geocache members (it is free) can find locations in their area, or in areas they might be travelling to/through.  As of two days ago fieldwork has become a geocache site and already a few geocachers have discovered the site and the 'cache'. What a great way to introduce a new group of people to fieldwork!

What geocaching and fieldwork have in common is a spirit of discovery, exploration, surprise and the 'gift' of a wonder-ful experience for everyone..  These have always been fundamental to the fieldwork experience.

aeolian organ images

fieldwork, jesse stewart's aeolian organ
fieldwork, jesse stewart's aeolian organ
fieldwork, jesse stewart's aeolian organ
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