The Wave Organ - Unique Sites Of California

Site of the Wave Organ in San Francisco Bay. Tourists can sit upon the stone benches and listen to its unique murmurings.
Site of the Wave Organ in San Francisco Bay. Tourists can sit upon the stone benches and listen to its unique murmurings.


The Wave Organ is a wave-activated acoustic sculpture that is located on a jetty near the Golden Gate Yacht Club on the shores of the San Francisco Bay in the Marina District of California, U.S.A. The wave organ utilizes the rumbling, hissing, gurgling, sloshing, and other wave sounds to produce different effects that can be regarded as the music of nature. The wave sounds are amplified and transmitted by a number of pipes to listeners at different stations. The sculpture was established in May 1986 by the Exploratorium, a public learning library in San Francisco.


When Peter Richards, a senior artist at the Exploratorium received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, he decided to do something unique with the help of the funding and began exploring the possibilities of a wave organ. In 1981, he presented a small rudimentary prototype of a wave organ created by him at the New Music ’81 Festival. The concept was highly acknowledged and praised by the public and an inspired Richard then decided to go further with the construction of the full-scale, functioning Wave Organ. For this, he took help of the expert stone mason, George Gonzales. The then Founding Director of the Exploratorium, Frank Oppenheimer, helped the artists gather the necessary permits and funding to go ahead with the construction. However, the construction of the Wave Organ suffered a setback with the death of Oppenheimer and it took seven months after his death to finally initiate the full-scale operations to construct the Wave Organ. Starting from September 1985, within less than a year, the Wave Organ was completed by May 1986, and ready for display and operation. The organ was then dedicated to Frank Oppenheimer.


The Wave Organ is made up of over 20 PVC and concrete pipes that snake around the jetty, at different elevations, with some entering the bay where the waves hit the shore. The jetty itself is composed of granite and marble obtained from a demolished cemetery and also hosts a number of seating arrangements on terraced slopes. The pipes of the organ produce music based on a similar principle as the conch shell but with some differences. As the waves crash on the ground and water moves in and out of the pipes, the changing water column within the pipes produces high and low pitches of sound, resulting in the creation of nature inspired music. The entire structure of the Wave Organ and its visiting facilities is currently managed by the staff of the Exploratorium.


The Wave Organ is a San Francisco wonder, receiving visitors throughout the year. It is recommended that visitors visit the Wave Organ during the high tide period since the best sounds are produced by the organ at such times. Besides the activity of exploring the history and construction of the organ and the sounds of the ocean, the visitors to the Wave Organ also enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding ocean and city skylines from the location of the organ. The tourists also enjoy other activities and attractions in the surrounding Golden Gate National Recreation Area like bird-watching, hiking, and whale-watching.


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