Ear Supply: The Emperor’s New Installation

Just up the Moseley Path from the Olympic Sculpture Park's PACCAR Pavilion, Trimpin's You Are Hear comprises three tractor seats embedded in a low concrete wall and three pairs of funnel-shaped headphones you put your head between while seated, all in the same traffic-cone orange as Calder’s The Eagle looming over your shoulder. At the first listening station, you hear one of the musician/sculptor’s toy-piano pieces, the darting, tinkling fragments a happy sonic analogue to the industrious bumblebees busy nearby in a tall bank of weeds. The second offers what’s billed as a “sound structure” inspired by the sounds of nature. If you say so; unless it was somehow shut off the afternoon I visited, I heard no more than what you would if you held a conch shell to each ear. The third invites you, John Cage-style, to contemplate the ambient sounds of passersby and the traffic on Elliott Avenue below—i.e., it does nothing. Drop the same concept into a concert hall, and you’re seduced or jolted into a radical rethinking of your definition of music; outside in a park, it’s just another place to sit. Is our universally beloved MacArthur "genius"-award winner, Guggenheim fellow, and upcoming Seattle Symphony collaborator due for a backlash? Among all the possible ways to combine sound-art and the environment, this one comes off as surprisingly perfunctory, despite the charm of the toy-piano music and the gadgetty whimsy of the funnel-and-seat contraptions. I don’t think he’s there yet, but Trimpin does seem at risk of becoming an aural Chihuly, making works that are fun, pretty, pointless, and celebrated primarily because his name is attached to them. Olympic Sculpture Park, 2901 Western Ave., seattleartmuseum.org. Open daily, sunrise–sunset. Ends Oct. 30.

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