Untitled Sounding Sculpture, 1975
200 East Randolph Street
Commissioned by the Standard Oil Company for the plaza of its headquarters building, Harry Bertoia’s Untitled Sounding Sculpture originally included eleven clusters of copper-beryllium alloy rods welded to brass plates mounted on granite pedestals located in front of the building (known initially as the Standard Oil Building, then the Amoco building and, today, the Aon Center). Set at right angles to one another in a large reflecting pool, the rods—ranging from 4 to 16 feet in height—collided with one another in the breeze, producing a variety of sounds, depending upon the length of the rods, the velocity of the wind and the size of the rod cluster. During the 1990s, the sounding sculpture was split between east and west areas alongside a large sunken plaza and now only six of the original eleven elements are on display.
Bertoia (1915-79) was an Italian-born sculptor and furniture designer who studied at Cranbrook Academy near Detroit. Perhaps best known for his 1952 chair design that used wire webbing on a steel cradle, Bertoia began experimenting with sound sculptures during the 1970s with his son Val. Inspired by a fascination with the Aeolian harp (a stringed instrument activated by the wind) and memories of wheat fields swaying in the breeze, Bertoia later experimented with “playing” and manipulating his metal sound sculptures by hand, producing a series of vinyl LP albums under the name “Sonambient.”
In spite of its location near a busy street in downtown Chicago, the Untitled Sounding Sculpture manages to envelop those who sit nearby in a gently sonorous environment that is unexpected in a metropolitan setting dominated by the drone of traffic and the bustle of pedestrians.