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Listening Vessels | Houston Discovery Green Park

Listening Vessels at Discovery Green Park across from the George R. Brown Convention Center
Posted: February 15, 2017 at 12:07 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

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Listening Vessels

The Listening Vessels found in downtown Houston’s Discovery Green Park are amazing!  The two concave interiors of these stone sculptures are situated 70 feet apart and face one another.  A person can sit in each one of these sculptures and whisper to one another and hear one another.

The concave interiors concentrate sound waves, which is the fundamental reason why this works.

Artist and Donor Information

Artist and Donor Information

Houston Philanthropist

Maconda Brown O’Connor was a well known Houston philanthropist. She left a major imprint upon our fine city with her good works and deeds.

This photo gives some perspective as to how far apart people are when sitting in each sculpture. That is my husband, and I took the photo while sitting in the other Listening Vessel at Discovery Green Park.

This photo gives some perspective as to how far apart people are when sitting in each sculpture. That is my husband, and I took the photo while sitting in the other Listening Vessel at Discovery Green Park.

To learn more about Maconda Brown O’Connor and see the bronze relief heart-shaped sculpture created as a tribute to her, click here.  That sculpture is not far from the Listening Vessels.  Anyone visiting the south side of Discovery Green Park can easily view both sculptures.

Artist Doug Hollis

Doug Hollis is a well known American artist (born 1948) in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  He earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Michigan.

Mr. Hollis got to know Frank Oppenheimer, who was an educator as well as a physicist.  Oppenheimer founded the Exploratorium in San Francisco.  It is now at Pier 15 at the Embarcadero.

At the interactive Exploratorium museum, visitors enjoy all types of experiences having to do with art, science, and human perception.  One such experience is described as being able to dance in the middle of a tornado!  That sounds truly amazing!  If my husband and I ever make another trip to San Francisco, I would like to spend part of a day at the Exploratorium.

Listening Vessels at Discovery Green Park

Listening Vessels at Discovery Green Park

Sound Sculpture

After becoming an artist-in-residence at the Exploratorium and getting to know Frank Oppenheimer, Doug Hollis became fascinated with sound sculpture. Isn’t it interesting how our life paths can change just by our associations with the people around us!

There are now many works of art by Doug Hollis in various parts of our country.  Some of his sound sculptures are permanent, and others have been temporary pieces of public art.  Water and wind are the sources of sound in some of his creations.

The Listening Vessels by Doug Hollis in the Wortham Foundation Gardens in Discovery Green Park consist of Alabama limestone.

Listening Vessels at Discovery Green Park

Listening Vessels at Discovery Green Park

About Limestone

Limestone is an interesting singular subject.  According to Wikipedia, “About 10% of sedimentary rocks are limestones.” Sedimentary rock has been compressed over many centuries and originated from shelled sea creatures.  Oceans once covered much of the land we see today, including even that of mountaintops!

Most caves and reefs contain limestone.  Limestone is often used in architecture, art, and more practical purposes.  Did you know that the Great Pyramid of Giza is covered with limestone?

While much limestone comes from Alabama, the largest limestone quarry is in Michigan.  The states of Wisconsin and Indiana account for the vast majority of limestone, which is almost 90% of the production in the United States.

Gauging of Sounds Before Radar

This story gets even more exciting!  It goes back to World War I.

Long before the invention of radar, some relevant research took place by Dr. William Sansome Tucker. Back in those days, it was more challenging to pinpoint enemy guns and aircraft.  “Sound ranging” is the gauging of sounds made by gunfire or an approaching plane.

Denge acoustic mirrors - Paul Russon [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Denge acoustic mirrors – Paul Russon [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The use of microphones combined with mathematics under Dr. Tucker’s direction leads to more convenient methods of identifying enemy forces as they approached.

Eventually, his early warning devices about the noise discharged guns made lead to the invention of parabolic acoustic mirrors made out of concrete.  It was easier with those “listening ears” to identify incoming enemy aircraft.

Some of those old concrete acoustic mirrors are still standing along England’s coastline as well as one in Malta.

An example of them in Denge are in the photo to the right.

As airplanes became faster, the acoustic mirrors became less effective.   Often by the time the airplane sounds were detected, they were already overhead.  The concrete sound mirrors became instantly obsolete with the invention of radar in 1932.

Whisper Dishes

Similar acoustic “whisper dishes” such as we experienced at the Houston Museum of Natural Science at Sugar Land are also found in other science museums.  They all are similar to these in Discovery Green Park.

The focusing of sound is certainly a fascinating subject.  Don’t you feel smarter today after reading this?

Shown below is a video of people enjoying various aspects of our beautiful downtown park called Discovery Green.  It does not feature everything in the park, but for people living outside of Houston, it gives an overall impression.

The location of Discovery Green Park where the Listening Vessels are found is the following: 1500 McKinney St., Houston, Texas 77010.

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