harnessing the forces of nature with claire’s windcatcher

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the wind is one of the mysteriously powerful elements, so intriguing because like so many important energies, we can’t see it, but we can feel it. and now, thanks to an incredible innovation by montreal producer, DJ and sound artist, claire kenway, we can hear it.

claire has been working on the windcatcher project – a machine that uses the wind to make music – since march 2012, when she received a grant from the canadian council of arts. since, the project has steadily evolved, and become fully realized on a rooftop in the plateau area of montreal. claire and i had been working on setting up a time for me to come visit the windcatcher for weeks – when finally, i was able to see it in action. i’m pretty sure i ran around the rooftop screaming “COOL!” and snapping photos for the first 10 minutes of being there. it’s truly a sight to behold, and once the breeze picks up, the whole scene is almost celestial in its stature. it’s a surreal paradox – this machine that captures the wind, simultaneously takes your breath away.

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did you ever hear that riddle when you were a kid? ‘a hill-full, a hole-full, you cannot catch a bowlful. what am i?’ – the answer was the wind, the supposedly uncatchable turned tangible in claire’s hands. the windcatcher music system was conceived, hand-designed, and built by claire, jacques gallant, christian miron, aurelien monsarrat, michel gallant, and claire’s father, who is an electrical engineer. between the three of them, the project came to life over almost a year of work: the wind harp, the wind turbine-turned-drum machine, and the set of chimes. solar panels power the programming computers, speakers, mixer, and soundcard. basically, the whole system can run completely sustainably during the summer, which is pretty kick ass. it ain’t easy being green? not when for claire. sculpture meets music meets engineering meets eco-friendly.

as claire puts it, the project’s biggest challenge was, of course, the fact that the find is “an unpredictable force of nature that cannot be controlled,” so the instruments created had to be able to stand up to any condition – from a light breeze to a wizard of oz style wind storm. unfortunately, the latter tore through the city of montreal this past january, taking the windcatcher with it. claire threw a fundraiser in collaboration with MTL’s blackbox in order to rebuild the windcatcher, which is (thankfully!) back, and better than ever. the nitty gritty of the design (which i won’t go into here, because let’s face it, what the fuck do i know, really) takes everything from kinetics to sound manipulation to other sciencey terms into consideration, all of which impact and influence the kind of music it creates. sometimes all three instruments work together, while at others, one will play at a time.

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what struck me most about the windcatcher was the fusion of audio, tactile and visual experiences – not only can you hear the music, but you can see the instruments actually creating, and beyond that, you can feel the wind as it puts everything into motion. i had goosebumps in that way that can only come from really special music.

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if you live in the montreal area, you can check out the windcatcher for yourself from now until september by contacting claire (and i definitely recommend you do) – it will be set up for public viewing on july 21st before being shipped off to the BC bass coast festival in august. for more info on the windcatcher and claire’s other projects, visit her website or like her facebook page.

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