bertoia-sonambient-heroBertoia recalled how, as a child, he wished there was a musical instrument that anyone could play instantly without years of training.

His father and brother were musically inclined and played numerous instruments. Arieto (“little Harry” in Italian) would tap his foot, not owning the same talent. Later when a group of gypsies came through his village in northern Italy, they hammered on pots and pans with a rhythmical beat as they repaired and shaped them. These vibrations left an impression deep inside young Arieto.

The tonal sounding sculptures came about when Harry was bending a single wire and it broke off, flew through the air and made a wonderful ping. It made him wonder what two or twenty rods might sound like. Thus began the adventure down the path of Sonambient. The first prototype sounding sculptures were created in early 1960. A complex grid wire base later morphed into a flat drilled metal base by the mid-1960s. Around 1970, the drilling included a concave dimple where the silver solder puddled neatly. Materials ranged from brass, bronze, beryllium copper, aluminum, monel, Inconel, and occasional gold plating. Most of the Sonambient recordings were completed, with the help of his musical brother Oreste Bertoia, in the Sonambient barn in 1970 and 1971, with a few in the later 70s.

He never made the same piece twice, always seeking a different or richer sound with varying rods or metals. Thousands of sounding sculptures ranging from 6” to 20’ demonstrate varying styles with cattail tops, cylinder tops, staggered height, beryllium copper or monel and thicker or thinner wire gauges produce all kinds of wonderful tones. Gongs and singing bars of varying lengths came in the mid 1970s to round out the Sonambient orchestra.

Harry Bertoia Foundation will be offering a limited edition reproduction of a table-sized tonal. Originals are often available at auction houses and galleries.