composer • educator

Sound Sculpture #2 with my brother, Michael

Added on by Carolyn O'Brien.

It has been a very long time since I have posted. I finished my doctorate in June 2016, went into an exhausting tailspin of more composing until the end of the year, and the political climate since the presidential election hasn't helped my process one damned bit. So, I decided what I needed was a break to remember what love is. I went to see family and friends, and to refuel by following another creative avenue that's been on my mind for years. A collaboration that means more to me than all others. Enter my brother, Michael O'Brien, artist, sculptor, collaborator, funny guy, and genius.

Michael and I have been collaborating, or perhaps pre-collaborating, for a while now. This week we finally managed to find some precious time to work together at his home in San Antonio, Texas. I talked about him and his first sound sculpture called Gong Tree in another blog post. If you are new to my brother's stuff, find his website here and his facebook page here. Man, his stuff is very good stuff, and the magical sound sculpture stuff is wonderful most wonderful and indeed also wonderful. His ideas make me laugh out loud, and tear up too. He did it again this week! Michael came up with a gorgeous sound sculpture made with a metal and walnut base, walnut branches, and the surprise ingredient: hole saws that seem to ring for days! You can play the bells by striking them with a metallic object. Probably a higher quality brass mallet would do nicely in concert, but when one is working in a garage one must improvise. We used a long bolt which sounded great. When Michael grinds down the teeth to a safer level, I believe scraping the teeth will create a gorgeous effect too. We have dubbed the sound sculpture Juniper Bells, because it sounds like bells, of course, and because the sculptural base juxtaposed with the shape of the hole saws remind us of the early American colonial practice of trimming juniper into topiary to create pom-poms or cloud shapes. Some of Michael's first sculptures were bronze versions of shrubs like these. Often humorous, some you could even climb while at a temporary exhibit at a sculpture park in Chicago a few years back, and above all, Michael's sculptures are always elegant, finely crafted, museum quality pieces.

In the fall of 2017, Juniper Bells and many other of these sound sculpture collaborations will be featured on a concert with vintage toy musical instruments, hand-punched/cranked music boxes, and professional musicians who are equally excited to play with new ideas. It has been such a great week of making this sibling brainstorming finally become manifest. While we are both grateful for modern communication methods (we text each other about 50 times a day!) it was great to surf this tidal wave of ideas once we could meet in person. Below you can see a quick film of Juniper Bells. We've only begun to discover the sounds it can make. Once the Juniper Bells are in my possession, I will look for an interested percussionist to help me, a person who I am sure will have even more fun with them than I am!

Enjoy! And yay Michael!


Juniper Bells is a sound sculpture by my brother, Michael O'Brien, named so because it resembles a juniper trimmed into a Colonial style topiary. The wood is walnut, and the bell sounds are made out of hole saws. We were elated at the gorgeous sounds that ring for days on end!