The trend at the Green Box Arts Festival skews playful, and happily so. As part of the annual July fest that imports concerts, dance performances from KEIGWIN + COMPANY, film screenings and classes, one large art piece anchors the entire enterprise in Green Mountain Falls. In the past, it's been balloon sculptures from Jason Hackenwerth, or last year's "Cloud City," a glorified and glorious funhouse of sky.
This year the pattern became apparent with "The Swings: An Exercise in Musical Cooperation" — a swing set that sings.
It's a joyful, peaceful experience. You can swing really high, and the swings themselves are nice: good rubber-coated chains to grab, nice seats that don't sag halfway to the ground. You can't help but smile, and then swing up higher and higher, and lean way back as you used to do, and how many years ago was that?
Then there's the sound. A soft plinking not unlike an ice cream truck, caused by each sling of the swings, forward or backward, from C up to F. The pink seats are piano notes, the blues from a harp, greens a guitar and yellows the vibraphone. Together, in your pods of three, four and three, you can make music — the more you coordinate, the more complex the sound. That's of course over the sounds you're making — laughter, "This is like therapy!" "I told you we have some swingers in Green Mountain Falls!" "If we jump now we may make it into the lake!"
Man, I wish I was swinging up there right now.
"The Swings" is the work of Montreal design studio Daily tous les jours ("Daily every day"), which has set up a 21-seat version of this in its hometown every spring since 2011, calling it a "giant collective instrument." This is its first touring version, and this is its very first stop.
The Daily crew, led by co-founder and principal Melissa Mongiat, took three years to design it and a week to set it up in Gazebo Park (and the design is unique in that it's Apple-product beautiful but also rests upon the ground solidly, no anchors required). The effect in the mountains is far different from that of its sibling in Montreal.
"We are used to working in spaces that are a bit rough," Mongiat says. "We try to bring in vitality and often beautify the space. And here, really, it's the opposite. You have this amazing setting with the mountains ... the air you breathe."
Mongiat explains that a Montreal composer designed the sounds and melodies, which are recorded from the real instruments, and that a half hour before it closes each night it goes a little techno, a little 2001: A Space Odyssey, she says with a laugh. (An effect aided by the light-up seats.)
Like Hackenwerth's balloons and "Cloud City," this is artwork that doesn't take itself too seriously, but isn't without depth. In this case, the harmonies you can make with perfect strangers, and the feeling of something that a lot of us adults get wistful about.
"We always forget the feeling of being on a swing," Mongiat says, her voice starting to trail off, "it brings you back to childhood memories. But also for the body it's this amazing feeling, it's really soothing, calming ..."