Pendulyres, Pendulings, Over
Ground and Other Things
A Sound and Video Installation by Dan Senn
Washington State History Museum
August - November 1996
In June of 1996, I began interviewing
on video employees of the old Northern Pacific Railroad who
had worked at Tacoma Washington's Union Station from 1930 to 1970.
Without a poitical agenda in mind, what I happened upon was a
group of people who dearly loved their jobs, were highly skilled
and literate, and uniformly spoke of a network of people, thousands
upon thousands (at one time the railroad averaged one person every
four miles watching the track), who had cooperated to enable a
highly complex system to work very effectively. As I interviewed
twelve former NP employees (telegraphers, dispatchers, a car men,
a secretary, an accountant, and a train master), I found a system
virtually free of what we politely call "jerks" today,
and I soon learned that this was for very practical reasons. Person-to-person
communication skills underpinned the smooth running of the pre-automated,
pre-computerized pre-1970s American rail system. To communicate
poorly was to jeopreodize human life. With many tons of fast moving
steel rolling in every direction, the selfish and immature did
not remain long in the system. To my absolute delight, I learned
that the railroad of old exemplified a cooperative ideal and to
interview these "old timers" was to shed light on their
unique and extraordinary lives and on a spirit which has served
them well in their present lives.
This installation components:
1. Color video (silent): Consists of a frame-by-frame mapping, in part, of the ground beneath the new History Museum. The video documents a 3/4-mile circle travelling south from 1933 Commerce Street, left at 21st Street, north tthrough Pugnatti park, through the area beneath the new History Museum, around Union Station, across Pacific Avenue and back toward its starting place. It was shot using a Hi8 camera and focused competely on inner-city weeds, trees, flowers while taking pains to avoid hyperdermic needles, refuse and, at one point, interruption by a heroin addict. Captured within a two hour period, the unedited piece is aided by weather which changes from sunny and windy, to overcast and still, to a sudden windy downpour, to a wet, still, and sunny conclusion. The video cycles every 18 minutes and was taken in May of 1993 without any idea that this exhibit would one day occur.
2. Monochrome videos: Consist of interviews of Northern Pacific telegraphers, dispatchers, car men, secretaries, accountants, and train masters (twelve in all) who worked at Tacoma's Union Station between 1930 and 1960. The video cycles every two hours. Those interviewed include Tom Frederickson, Bud Emmons, Dick Leary, Hank Burke, Pat Almquist, Ed Overly, George Stephenson, Ed Anderson, Chuck and Anabell Stillman, Don Shane and Duke Tone. This portion of the exhibit was supported in part by a Special Project Grant from the City of Tacoma Cultural Resource Division.
3. Sculptural Instruments: Includes four pendulum-based instruments: a Jiggerling (by the color monitor), a Tooned Penduling (back left), a Double Stringed Pendulyre (by the green monochrome monitor), and a Tooned Penduling (front left). The small wooden pendulums in each instrument are driven by four speaker-pumps which carry subaudio frequencies pulsing between 1 beat every 29 to 36 seconds, to 15 pulses every second. Each speaker-pump is controlled by a separate oscillator (16 in all) with a unique phase duration lasting, again, between 29 and 36 seconds. The string and metallic sounds are amplified by piezo contact microphones.