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Bosun’s Bass

Bosun’s Bass

Artist Tim Hawkinson is celebrated for his idiosyncratic, imaginative artworks that re-purpose everyday materials in inventive sculptural constructions that simultaneously confound and delight. Hawkinson has collaborated with the Center for Art and Inquiry and the Studio for Public Spaces to create the third installment of our adventurous Over the Water series of large-scale artworks for the civic space at Pier 15. Bosun’s Bass is a tide-activated sound work inspired by the bosun's call, the high-pitched whistle used by mariners to give commands that can be heard over the roar of the sea.

Evoking the eerie sounds of San Francisco’s maritime past, Hawkinson’s whimsical work employs elements of everyday transportation—shipping container, bus bellows, bicycle—to create a bass bosun's whistle, which is tuned three octaves lower than the traditional instrument.

The shipping container, pitched vertically and installed over a hole in the deck of Pier 15, provides the lungs of the system. Tidal waters rise and fall in the container, compressing air and pushing it up into a giant bellows mounted above. The bellows, reclaimed from the pleated section of an articulated Muni bus, provides a steady source of pressurized air, which moves through a hose to the bicycle frame and there blows the bosun’s pipe. The airflow is controlled by a series of valves, levers, and other mechanisms that emulate a bosun’s hand and mouth motions to produce different sounds in the whistle. Cued by patterns cut into the tread of the bike's rear wheel, the bass bosun's pipe plays 21 different traditional calls including "Attention," "Carry On," "Swab the Deck," and "Pipe Down.”

A monumental experiment with the physics of sound, Bosun’s Bass is sure to intrigue and amaze.

In The Plaza 9/11/2015 through 1/7/2016. 

Over the Water: Tim Hawkinson (pdf)

Essays about this dynamic artwork and artist