Artwork captures northern lights

Sculpture combines sound, light, electronic wizardry

by Bruce Mason staff writer

They are a group of seven--from the departments of Fine Arts, Music, English, Classical Studies and Electrical and Computer Engineering--whose work of art will turn on lights and imaginations in Canadian galleries.

Fine Arts Assoc. Prof. Richard Prince is the driving force behind the multi-unit installation sound sculpture, The Aurora on All Three Channels.

"It is common knowledge in the aurora belt that the northern lights make sound," he explains. "I wanted to capture their glow and process it through audio and optical devices to create a true symphony."

An easy task accomplished with off-the-shelf technology, he thought. However, as the challenge became more complex, Prince began to collaborate with the wide spectrum of scholarly and creative resources at UBC where he has taught for 24 years.

Enter David Floren, a fourth-year Fine Arts student and electronic design and circuitry technician and Ed Casas, an assistant professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. They were joined by composers Music Prof. Keith Hamel and Music lecturer Bob Pritchard.

The source of the sound sculpture is the very Canadian and very northern CBC Northern Service. An electronic sound-to-light control device translates the signal into light bulbs which flicker.

Across the room, Fresnel lenses focus the light on photo-sensitive electronic components. The signals are reconverted from light to sound--an eerie and unpredictable music.

Head of the English Dept. Prof. Sherill Grace has written an essay for the collaborative catalogue on the artistic fascination with this natural phenomena.

"Phostheria" is the name Classics Assoc. Prof. Harry Edinger coined for one part of the sculpture. It's from classical Greek and means "light hunter" or "light trapper."

The Aurora on All Three Channels is at the Campus Gallery in Barrie, Ont. until March 19, its first stop on a coast-to-coast-to-coast tour. A UBC date has yet to be determined.