Interdisciplinary Arts

Wind Instrument

Étienne Paquette

We lent an ear to the city’s whisper

Although invisible to our eyes, the urban landscape is revealed through the city’s murmur. The installation Wind Instrument by Étienne Paquette stems from a reflection on the quest for silence, in a context of ubiquitous noise. Borrowing from sculpture and generative art, this steel tubular sculpture uses the analysis of harmonic frequencies and sound levels from the environment to produce sounds in real time. Lighting effects, in tune with the progression of harmonies, enhance the sculpture’s musical activity and, inevitably, the city’s score.


By Camille Bédard

It’s a balmy Thursday evening of late summer, corner Maisonneuve and Saint-Laurent. At the exit of the subway, bewildered faces emerge. This residual impersonal urban space, traversed so frequently on the way to work, from work to the show, and from the show back home, is today transformed by the monumental presence of six colorful pipes. The sound of buses, of police and ambulance sirens, and from the speakers of various festivals seems to fade out, giving way to the symphony of Wind Instrument, a fantastic organ urging passersby to slow down.

The city soundscape as we know it is most often a source of annoyance rather than pleasure and, ironically, can only be appreciated once we manage to forget it. Yet this infinitely variant soundscape comprises a range of different sounds that complement urban daily life: the bursts of laughter from children’s parties, the tinkling of glasses on a terrasse, the muffled sound of footsteps on freshly fallen snow, church bells ringing on a joyous occasion...

Étienne Paquette’s tubular installation and the sounds it generates converge to create a seemingly real wind instrument. The aesthetic ensemble hides a musical instrument software that captures surrounding sounds and analyses their harmonic levels and frequencies, transposing these into the work’s musical spectrum. Curious participants who speak, sing or shout into the small lilac pipe at the foot of the structure contribute to the various sounds produced by the machine and create a progression of chords. Through their voice, they participate in the city’s soundscape. However, nothing here is random: Wind Instrument’s partition follows the harmonies of the pentatonic scale. Can one find peace in the hustle and bustle of city life by adding to the noise rather than seeking silence?

At nightfall, this surprising musical vessel takes on an entirely different appearance. If daylight emphasizes the installation’s brightly coloured pipes, the evening lighting facilitates an understanding of its musical composition, each pipe being illuminated from inside when a sound is produced. Entranced by these lighting effects, passersby waltz to the sound of a pleasantly reinvented urban song.



Check out a few models of the piece and its evolution


A prototype was presented during La Nuit des POSSIBLES on December 8th, 2017 at the Grande Bibliothèque de Montréal.


Tests and installation of the monumental artwork


ID card

Étienne Paquette

Étienne Paquette

Étienne Paquette takes audiences on fantastic journeys with large-scale, immersive installations that borrow elements from other art forms, such as sculpture. He is also a designer, director, screenwriter and artistic director in multimedia and museum exhibition. He has increasingly taken a transdisciplinary approach to his work, experimenting with narrative to create different ways for audiences to participate in stories, all the while guided by the principle that every work has its own space, materials, technologies, concerns and experiential qualities. Over the years, Paquette has worked independently with organizations like the NFB, the McCord Stewart Museum, Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec, Space for Life and the Quartier des Spectacles. Notably, he is one of the creators of Beyond Ice (NFB/Canadian Museum of Nature, 2017), Light Bearers (Montreal Insectarium, 2015) and Megaphone (Moment Factory/NFB and QDS, Montreal, 2013). His work has been discussed in international magazines and scientific literature published by institutions such as the MIT Press, among others. Paquette holds a Ph.D. in Communication from UQAM.



Office national du film du Canada
Partenariat du Quartier des spectacles
LA SERRE — arts vivants

Credits for the piece

Creative and artistic director Etienne Paquette
Set designer Mélanie Crespin
Sound designer and interactivity programmer Philippe Hughes
Technical director Vincent Paquette
Music consultant and researcher Javier Asencio
Multimedia consultant Vincent Pasquier


Director and Editor Joël Morin-Ben Abdallah
Camera Charlie Marois


Event Chloé Larivière and Elias Touil
Portrait Julie Armstrong-Boileau

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Use headphones