How Arthur Ganson Changed the Way I look at Musical Instruments

Everybody must visit the sculptures at MIT Museum. I go once a year to reconnect with the work of Arthur Ganson. New ideas are born. This is one of the sculptors / inventors / artists who inspired this site to exist. There is an exhibit called 5000 Moving Parts which brings more kinetic sculptures to Cambridge. Go see it!

Image from Athur Gansons website.

Does Invention Come From Observation or Conversation?

In his amazing Ted Talk, Ganson explains how his early ideas came from deep introverted thoughts. He would quietly observe objects in great detail, play with a particular nuance of the item, and then imagine a way to bring that idea to life. The results are stunning.

For me, invention has its basis in combining ideas from separate thoughts/places/objects in ways that hadn’t been done before. Often, new concepts evolve from applying a vocabulary/framework from one notion onto another. But Ganson’s approach that new ideas can spring from deep observation was a new tool for me.

Completing the Energy Cycle
New ideas are born in Ganson’s head, manifested through his hands and materials, but only when the observer connects with his work, does the Ganson consider the work alive. Ganson calls this the Energy Cycle of his work. So much art transmit ideas outward. But, by focusing on both the transmission and the reception of these ideas, Ganson finds a way to connect through his work.

The Goal: Multiplying Input Energy Exponentially

And to build on Ganson’s idea… The goal of a musical instrument should be to transmit the energy of the musician into something exponentially greater. Every effort that is put into a musical instrument via looking, touching, melodies, chords should be multiplied to create something more meaningful. This transformation occurs through tone, varnish, playability, expression and is manifested first in the musician, and then the audience.

That is why I’m such a huge fan of his work. By observing his work, or pressing a few buttons, as a viewer I’m greatly rewarded with new expressions and ideas that make appreciate how ideas come to life. With time, I hope the next generation of artists brings his ideas about movement and gears find deeper into the musical realm.


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