What has two artificial lungs, smokes hand-rolled cigars, and incessantly plays the recorder? Maybe that weird great uncle on your Dad’s side of the family who always wears the corduroy suits. But also the latest sound art installation by Ronald van der Meijs.
Play it one more time for me La Ville Fumée can be found in Eindhoven, in the Netherlands. If you went to see it blindfolded, all you’d hear was the din of four recorders—a bass flute, alto, tenor, and a soprano. The fun comes from the Rube Goldberg-style contraption that plays them all. It starts with two artificial lungs, which blast air into a series of pistons, inside of which burn eight hand-rolled cigars. As they burn, the smoke is pushed out of the pistons into a series of tubes, leading to the records.
It’s maybe a bit less random than it seems. Eindhoven, Meijs explains, was one of Europe’s biggest cigar manufacturers around the turn of the century. He’s always been interested in combining the natural and mechanical in his works, and in the slowly burning cigar he saw a perfect natural ingredient, or "trigger," as he calls it. They add an unpredictable element to the operation—each cigar, rolled in the traditional fashion, burns with its own speed—and also lend a visual to the sound, in the sense that the smoke lets you track the air that’s actually making the recorders hum.
"In the old days the city was full of cigar smoke. There were lots of mechanical parts, steam, noise, and even whistles to start the work in the old cigar factories," Meijs says. "So this installation is in many ways a metaphor for the cigar production of Eindhoven."
In addition to giving viewers some sights and sounds of the Netherlands of yore, the contraption engages them on a third level, too: smell. The cigars stink. "It’s a total art experience!" Mejis says. Or the total weird uncle experience. Odd and compelling either way.
Find the installation at the De Fabriek in Eindhoven.