Airplayers is the name which Sara Garden Armstrong has given to a series of ten room-sized kinetic sound sculptures that began in 1982. In Airplayer I, currents of air rushed out of a series of 1/2 and 3/4 inch copper pipes which protruded from a sheetrock wall. The blower box, hidden behind this wall, contained a 1 rpm motor which rotated a perforated wooden disk, and a squirrel-cage blower. As the disk turned, the air was directed through the perforations into each of the pipes in turn. The threaded metal rods which the artist placed inside out the pipes changed the sound slightly from pipe to pipe. Visitors to the space could both hear the sound of the air rushing through the cylinders as well as feel the breath of the blower as the air shifted from pipe to pipe. The series developed over time, and the blower boxes and hoses eventually became a visible part of the installations. In Airplayer IV 11984) Armstrong began working with large forms of handmade paper which were suspended from the ceiling of the installation space. These forms, strongly suggesting the geography of the natural world, had large plastic hoses embedded within them. Some of the hoses were connected directly to the blowers, others were left unattached. The forms responded both to external currents of air and to the movement of forced air within the hoses, trembling, swaying, or quivering slightly. The artist also introduced subtly painted wall shadows in this installation, mimicking the natural shadows cast within the installation space by the paper forms.

With Airplayer V 11986), each form was attached to its own blower box, allowing the artist to mechanically control both the sound of the blowers and the movement of the individual forms. With Airplayer IX (1988) Armstrong began to use a computer to control the switching of the blowers, and with Airplayer X she introduced digitized blower sounds, controlling and overlapping natural and digitized sound in the same way which she had controlled and overlapped natural and airbrushed shadows a few years earlier. The Airplayers are carefully scored by the artist (in conjunction with technical collaborators, if necessary) and the sound scores are as much a part of the installations as shape or movement.

Each installation is a completely unique work. The nature of the installation space determines the final form of each sculpture, and the sound and movement score is carefully composed for each new installation. In Airplayer XI, the next in the series, the artist proposes to score the lighting as well, thus bringing an additional element under her control. Although still designated "sculpture" out of convenience, Sara Garden Armstrong's Airplayers have increasingly taken on aspects of performance. Starting with Airplayer IX the artist began to provide cushions in order to allow visitors to the installation to sit comfortably throughout an entire cycle of the 20 minute score. The integration of the microcomputer into the series, allowing the artist ever more precise designations of movement and sound land soon light), will continue to blur the distinctions between dramatic and visual arts, further enriching both theater and sculpture.
Robert S. Ross

© 2021 Sara Garden Armstrong