The sound sculpture "Ad lib." (2017) combines a medical machine for automatic pulmonary ventilation with a few organ pipes that play a musical chord, a fragment of music (a reference to the "German Requiem" op.45 by Johannes Brahms) frozen to the constant rhythm of the automatic breath. The title of the work, the abbreviation of the Latin expression “ad libitum”, literally means “at one's pleasure” or “as you desire" and is generally used to express the freedom of a person to act according to their own judgment in a given context. As a direction in sheet music, “ad lib.” indicates that the performer can use their discretion to interpret a given passage of the score, e.g. allowing certain bars of the score to be repeated at will without restraint. The action of this artificial organ raises ethical questions about the discretion and responsibility involved in this mechanical requiem, a metaphor for a limit that men delegate to technology.
What did you create?
"Ad lib." is a sound sculpture that combines a medical breathing machine with an iconic music instrument, a pipe organ, thus creating a hybrid, yet very symbolic, instrument. A machine designed to provide automatic pulmonary ventilation to patients with conditions affecting the respiratory system is hooked up to the sounding component of the instrument most associated with Christian liturgy. The organ, formerly one of the most complex man made machines, is also a precursor of modern pneumatics and automation. The sculpture plays a musical chord frozen to the constant rhythm of the automatic breath, a fragment of music – an F major chord – that refers to the "German Requiem" op.45 by Johannes Brahms. The result is an original music machine that plays a mechanical Requiem acting as a powerful metaphor and addressing questions on themes like therapeutic obstinacy, machinic life, post-human condition or the acceptance of individuals will.
Why did you make it?
Under its simple and essential appearance, the work “Ad lib.” raises questions over our efforts to artificially extend life by replacing bodily organs with machines. The title of the work, the abbreviation of the Latin expression “Ad libitum”, is generally used to express the freedom of a person to act according to their own judgment in a given context. “Ad libitum” is also musical terminology for “at discretion” which gives freedom to the player over parameters such as how many times to repeat a number of bars in a musical score. The sound produced by the sculpture is a continuous drone interspaced by the regular rhythmic pattern of the breathing machine, a frozen fragment – repeated “ad libitum” – that only allows for variation by flipping the switch off. In the circumstances in which human will can prolong or interrupt the survival of the body ad libitum, ethical and philosophical questions emerge. Who is in power when we become dependent on such machines for our biological existence? Thus the "Ad lib." questions us about the discretion and responsibility involved in this artificial organ, a metaphor for a limit that men delegate to technology. Can we still discuss whether the person is still alive or not, when relying on a machine to live? The reference to the musical form of the Requiem, suggests that keeping patients in a frozen state of suspense, when it’s not effective at healing the patient, has the purpose of facilitating the mourning of those who will continue living.
How did you make it?
“Ad lib” is the result of several years of research trying to create an original artwork by the simple juxtaposition of two very different objects without altering them. The sculpture uses only original organ parts, to provide a constant airflow for the drone sound, and a pulmonary ventilator – a professional medical machine for home care – whose circuit and software are original and weren’t altered to fit the artwork. Nevertheless the breathing machine is a life saving device and has several sensors and alarm systems to prevent airflow loss to the patient, therefore the real challenge in building the sculpture was to let the pulmonary ventilator sense the organ pipes as a human patient, detecting a muscular resistance when the air is blown, to avoid the alarm system to start beeping. This was possible by creating an inner airflow circuit, so that the air provided by the pulmonary ventilator can rhythmically play two organ pipes. The aesthetic appearance of the sculpture is deliberately simple and minimalist to emphasize the “hybrid-ness” of the instrument: there is a 9 pipe organ and on its side a medical machine on its trolley. The two parts are only connected by the air duct that rhythmically blows air from the ventilator into the organ.
Your entry’s specification
materials: automatic pulmonary ventilator, trolley, 9 organ pipes, wood, organ ventilator dimensions: pipe organ: dim. height 280cm / width 110cm / depth 45cm; trolley with ventilator: dim. height 124cm / base 55x55cm Since the trolley is placed next to the organ the sculpture takes up 2m width and 1m depth in the exhibiting space. Please consider that the sound is constant, the volume is not loud (approximately 65dB depending on environmental conditions), but it cannot be controlled or lowered down. The work weights approximately 70kg. The work is shipped in 2 crates. Crate 1 dimensions: length 266cm, width 71cm, height 55cm, weight 130 Kg approx. Crate 2 dimensions: length 181cm, width 71cm, height 71cm, weight 150Kg approx.