Spencer Topel has Sound Art Installation at Proctor

A composer and an internationally recognized sound artist

By Molly Leith

Three years ago a motivated and intelligent, classically trained composer and internationally recognized sound artist, Spencer Topel, approached me as Proctor’s art curator. The focal point of the conversation was the atrium of the Fowler Learning Center on Proctor Academy’s campus. Spencer’s intention was to design a site-specific, solar-powered, sound art installation to amplify the resonance and vibrational frequencies of that incredible architectural space.

Now based in New York, Topel taught sound art at Dartmouth College for 10 years, and at the time of the visit he had recently received grant funding to allow this project to be fully actualized. Attracted by the acoustics of the 40-foot atrium with its two-story windows and simplicity of the elegant Shaker style, the space presented an incredible opportunity for his artistic vision. 

The scientific and artistic intersection of Spencer’s approach is compelling on an artistic as well as educational level. Proctor emphasizes intersections between disciplines: math in metal fabrication or boatbuilding, studio art in anatomy. This project presents an interdisciplinary experience not only in the classroom but in our surroundings. Students, faculty, and staff experience this unique work of art that connects us to our environment and continues to unfold before us with each chime.

Today, after several prototype modifications, materials tests, design simplifications, and various engineering solutions, Time Lines, with 21 solar-powered sun chimes, is a welcome and refreshing addition to the campus. Presenting the community with new and unpredictable behavior each day, it beckons us to pause and listen. When will they move?  How do they move?

More About Spencer Topel

Spencer Topel is an American artist combining sound, installation, and performance. His practice is often characterized as an exploration between sculpture and musical instruments, expressed in a variety of works ranging from site-specific installations to performance art pieces. At the heart of this inquiry is the notion that objects have their own unique voice, and the task of the artist is to reveal and amplify this quality. 

Educated in music composition at The Juilliard School and Cornell University, Topel later joined the faculty at Dartmouth College as a professor of music. There he collaborated with sculptor Soo Sunny Park on several projects including Capturing Resonance for the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park.

Spencer’s current and past projects with international arts and performing arts institutions include: Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Los Angeles Philharmonic; The Barnes Foundation, Pennsylvania; The Juilliard School; Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts; Drawing Center New York, The Estonian Music Days, Tallin; The Arts Club of Chicago; DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park Boston, LiteraturHaus, CPH; The Huddersfield Festival, UK; the Arts and Ideas Festival, New Haven; Proctor Academy; and the Caramoor Festival, New York. 


His work has been performed by celebrated ensembles that include the Minnesota Orchestra, the Aspen Contemporary Ensemble, the Oregon Symphony, the Juilliard Symphony, Ensemble Third Sound, and the Flux Quartet. Notable collaborations continue with cellist Seth Parker Woods and violinist Pauline Kim Harris.

Collaboration is a central part of Topel’s practice, which led to the formation of two companies: Studio Topel and Physical Synthesis in 2019. Most recently, Spencer was Artist-in-Residence at The Yale Quantum Institute, where he and his collaborators developed the first-ever musical synthesizer using transmon qubits, the building blocks of quantum computers.


For more information, visit SpencerTopel.com.