Acoustic Tipi

Photo by Nicolás Kisic Aguirre

Acoustic Tipi
Mahogany, cow hide drums, acrylic, steel hardware, bungee cords, drum sticks
The Swamp School, Lithuania Pavilion, La BiennaleArchitettura di Venezia, Venice, Italy
May - November, 2018
European Cultural Center - Venice, Palazzo Mora
May -November 2019

The tipi sound amplifier is a drum interface which invites people to create audible vibrations that will reverberate through space.

The traditional tipi is a Dakota portable home structure for an extended family, it is a shape of strength. In this piece, the tipi contours have been stylized to encourage sound transmitting capabilities, and it is home to four sacred drums.

drum making

Tightening the skin

Finished natural drums alongside four synthetic drums

Each drum plays a different tone. The drums reside within the structure via tension support cords which enable the sound to be amplified and harmonized, projecting upwards and outwards.

The drums are painted with white, yellow, black and red morningstars, colors of the four directions. The morningstar is symbol of Dakota cosmology and in this context, represents our people and our ways of life that are indigenous to the land. The tipi structure resonates with the pure sound of the drum, directing it down into the ground, each beat a communication to the earth.

The acoustic tipi references unktehi – a supernatural water serpent of Dakota legend, who is responsible for flooding and peril in the water and wakinyan – thunderbeings who bring atmospheric catastrophe, warning of impending flooding, sea-level rise, and the increased intensity of planetary storms due to climate and environmental change.

 At the Lithuania pavilion, at the Venice Architecture Biennale, through the concept of “Swamp Radio (On Transmitting)” we can explore the Venice lagoon as a site for the realization of the interconnectedness of life on earth. Wetland ecosystems occupy a place in between the worlds of the water and the land, teeming with life, and are increasingly threatened by human activity.

Through the sound of the drum, Acoustic Tipi provides an encounter, a moment of reflection, upon the interrelation of life on earth and throughout the universe. The piece allows up to four people to play at once, creating a collaboration which reduces the distance between the art and viewer, and each other. Made from wood which can be easily taken apart and reassembled, its location can change in order to activate different spaces within a built environment and other sites.

Through the power of rhythm, vibrations will reach outward forever into infinity like a synesthetic prayer, creating the possibility of an organic communal experience. The piece is a call for unity to address issues of ecological decline, which, according to Dakota philosophy, is the responsibility of all people.