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An Art Installation That Turns Swimming Goldfish Into Musicians

How long till they figure out "Mary Had A Little Lamb"?

An Art Installation That Turns Swimming Goldfish Into Musicians

If you’re looking for a pet that doesn’t make any racket, a goldfish is a pretty safe bet. Unless your goldfish plays an instrument. Which is more or less the idea behind Hong Kong–based artist Henry Chu’s latest installation, Fish Harp.

The piece is intended to soothe on both a visual and an aural level. The fish, which are actually digital simulations, swim around on a tabletop screen, their orange glow flickering up through the arrangement of glasses above. But those glasses serve also as a musical instrument, with the fish’s movements triggering the sound of each glass as they swim beneath.

It’s the realization of an idea that Chu had been toying with for years. He’d always wanted to do something that extended a 2-D screen into 3-D space, he explains, reflecting the light of a flat display through a collection of transparent objects to create some sort of a mirage. But to realize it, he first had to decide what to put on the screen. Chu says he thought of a Chinese saying for describing an illusion that, roughly translated, is "like flowers in the mirror and the moon in the water." The pronunciations for "moon" and "fish" are similar, he explains, and after considering the music-making potential of each, he went with the fish.

The next part was giving them something to play. Chu knew he didn’t want it to be an especially active soundtrack—it had to be "something you can enjoy like watching a pond of fish," he says. The gentle circles drawn by the fish reminded him of the circles one makes with their finger to play a glass harp, and that became the collection of transparent objects that would bring the 3-D element to the piece.

Ultimately, the random tones might be a bit more distracting than soothing, but I’d still take it over a barking puppy.

Chu’s Fish Harp can be found at the Agnes B Gallery in Hong Kong as part of an exhibition called Musique Plastique. See more on the blog for Henry Chu’s studio, Pill and Pillow.

[Hat tip: The Creators Project]