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Hear the Music of Bosun's Bass

Hear the Music of Bosun's Bass

To create this monumental experiment with the physics of sound, artist Tim Hawkinson selected elements of transportation: a shipping container, bus bellows, and a bicycle. (Photo by Amy Snyder/Exploratorium) 


Invoking the eerie sounds of San Francisco’s maritime past, Bosun’s Bass by Tim Hawkinson is a tide-activated sound work that re-interprets the bosun's pipe, a high pitched whistle used by mariners to give commands in conditions where the human voice cannot carry over the roar of the sea. 

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, provide a steady source of pressurized air, which moves through a hose to the bicycle frame and 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.”

(Photo by Amy Snyder/Exploratorium)

The Exploratorium commissioned this work by the celebrated Los Angeles-based artist for the third installment of our adventurous Over the Water series of large-scale artworks for the civic space at Pier 15. The piece will be up and running in the next few weeks and on display until mid-January. Check here for details on opening and showtimes. In the meantime, enjoy this video of the sounds of the Bosun's Bass.