Sunday, April 02, 2006

Water music

Playing Nessie
Another sunny spring day, another walk. On Dundas St., across from the construction-ravaged Art Gallery of Ontario, I heard spooky, resonant music. A few steps further, and I found the source: a man playing a remarkable water-organ.

I stopped to ask him about it. He said his name was Steve, and he had invented the organ, which he called Nessie, to amuse his 2-year-old daughter. He showed how blocking the jets of water with your fingers produced different notes; a softer note could be produced by allowing a bit of water to trickle through.

A crowd began to gather. "Well, isn't that something!" said a woman standing next to me. An older Chinese woman, having observed Steve's playing for a few minutes, took over the jets and played, with great authority, something complex and operatic-sounding. Steve asked her what other instruments she played, and she said, "I am from Peking," and made keyboard-playing motions with her hands.

A more polished version of Nessie -- Nessie 2.0? -- will apparently be part of an upcoming Ontario Science Centre exhibition on hydraulics.

Steve and Nessie
Update: Read the comments -- some helpful readers have come through with more information about this!


Blogger striatic said...

this is powered, i assume?

where was he pulling the power from?

4:44 p.m., April 02, 2006  
Blogger Nadia said...

Hi Striatic! Yeah, what you can't see in these photos is the electric thingmabob that the sound actually came out of. It was sort of rainbow-shaped, was wired to the fountainy thing, and was propped against a wall a safe distance from the jets of water. The whole caboodle was set up in front of a small gallery, and was powered by cables that ran into the gallery.

4:53 p.m., April 02, 2006  
Anonymous Wrenkin said...

Is that Steve Mann? That weird building across from the AGO is actually his house. He's a UofT engineering Prof famous for wearing those large sunglasses that have a hidden camera which records his life.

6:35 p.m., April 02, 2006  
Blogger Nadia said...

No, this is another dude named Steve. This Steve isn't a cyborg, as far as I could tell.

6:45 p.m., April 02, 2006  
Anonymous Liav said...

No, it's definitely Steve Mann. I met him several months ago. He was walking down the street wearing and playing a portable, air-powered version of that thingy. I did a double take and ran after him to find out what it was. Nice, but weird guy.

1:49 a.m., April 03, 2006  
Blogger ranjit said...

That's great! I found more info over at

"Funtain." That's an embarrassing name.

Also, Toronto already has warm enough weather to play fountainphones outdoors? No fair!

10:32 a.m., April 03, 2006  
Blogger Nadia said...

Wrenkin and Liav: You're right -- it was Steve Mann. I've seen photos of him, but I totally didn't recognize him with the beard & without the Borg-type headgear. (Steve Mann UNPLUGGED!)

Which means, incidentally, that what I took for a "small gallery" was actually his house.

Ranjit: it's true. Nessie is a much better name.

Once again, posting a thing on the internet yields interesting and unexpected information about that thing. Huzzah, interwebs! Thanks guys!

12:21 p.m., April 03, 2006  
Anonymous Ken Dickson said...

It is "the" Steve Mann, and his FUNtain is being installed at the Science Centre later this summer!
(No hydraulics show though...)

A piece by artist Stacy Levy and Torontonian David Rokeby will be added there as well.

Details at:

9:44 a.m., April 05, 2006  

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