October 6, 2008

New York Public Library Blog

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Stunning Speakers
by Jessica Pigza, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, Rare Book Division

Last Thursday, instead of making myself squirm through the vice-presidential debate as it unfolded live, I went to a concert. The musician Andrew Bird played the Tarrytown Music Hall, and his haunting, looping violin (combined with glockenspiel, guitar, voice, and whistling) filled the room with mesmerizing and sweeping sounds. The performance was unforgettable; I’ve never seen such an impressive and complex one-man show.

But even before the musician took the stage, I was rapt, because standing in readiness on the stage were four luminous sculptural forms that appeared to be a marriage between gramophones and human-sized flowers. What could they be? Luckily, Mr. Bird anticipated audience curiosity and introduced them to us. These one-of-a-kind custom creations are speakers created by Ian Schneller, who makes musical instruments by hand at his studio, Specimen Products. Schneller’s work is featured in Hand Made, Hand Played: The Art & Craft of Contemporary Guitars by Robert Shaw, whose previous books include America’s Traditional Crafts.

Schneller’s speakers filled the hall with sound, while their glowing and undulating surfaces also contributed to the atmosphere of the Hall. You can view these stunning speakers in action here. And here, you can see the extra-large horn speaker as it is created, step by step.