For Chicago Time Out Magazine
By Douglas R. Ewart
Please can you tell me a bit more about the Sonic Tops? I hear you have over 100? How do they work, and what do you do with them? Do you make them yourself, and if so, how long does each one take to make?
Several years ago I made some tops for some of the children that reside on my street. These tops were similar to tops I built as a child growing up in Jamaica. The children became so fascinated and engrossed in playing with the tops that it set me thinking about how could I use tops in my performances as a means of getting substantive exchange between participants/performers and audiences.
I wanted to build about fifty tops but was somewhat daunted by the task of making that many tops. I finally said to myself, if you don't get started you will never accomplish the goal. I began experimenting with tops that could make sounds since my work as a performer is driven my sound/music. After making about thirty tops from bamboo and wood, I began to experiment with a plethora of materials, shapes and sizes of tops. I was/am particularly interested in utilizing items that are recyclable since our society discards so many useful items.
When one plays with tops, jacks, marbles, hop scotch, etc., they must get down to eyelevel with each other and the play instigates…necessitates communication, talk, teaching, showing, learning, laughter and having sustained fun. I came to understand that many parents, caregivers and guardians don’t play with their charges or they do so at a distance and with great consternation. The play with tops brakes down myriad barriers.
“Ewart Sonic Tops,” is based on the universality of tops, as nearly all cultures have developed some kind of top. Tops are magical, cosmic, mystical and beautiful. Two crucial aspects of life that tops represents and reflect are movements and vibrations, which are so paramount to our existence and survival. The imaginative conduct/behavior that tops elicit from humans is inestimable and boundless. Tops are complex in terms of the physical and metaphoric aspects that they represent regarding our planet, the solar system and the countless galaxies and universes. The uses of top-like parts in simple and complex machines/tools are numerous and have been crucial to the advancement and comfort of human life.
The tops are utilized as sound and movement generators/systems in my work. They make flute like sounds, rumblings sounds, rubbing sounds, rattling sounds, humming sounds, accelerating and decelerating sounds, Doppler effect and some indescribable sounds. The movements of the tops are diverse engaging dances.
A colleague of mine, Mankwe Ndosi, spoke with Jayve Montgomery, who is the curator of Sonic Playground and told him about my piece called “Sonic Tops.” Jayve and I met and discussed the work “Sonic Tops” and we felt that it would be a most appropriate work for the Sonic Playground program.
My work relates to the previous works because “Sonic Tops” is designed to engage children and adults in hands on, visceral, tactile, imaginative, playful and intellectual manner.