Using Art in Spreading Awareness on Energy Consumption

Musical Sheet


Flick on a lightweight. Crank up the air con. Activate the TV. Energy is nearly like oxygen; it supports modern-day life. We use it 24/7. Refrigerators run. Safety lights illuminate. Even when off, some electronic devices draw electricity. That is why everyone should have an Easy Power Plan (see the Easy Power Plan review).


We don’t think much about our energy consumption, similar to breathing. To lift awareness of energy use, artist Deb Todd Wheeler created Surge, a multi-sensory exhibit that represents one year of electricity use of 5 Babson buildings. The exhibit, curated by Danielle Krcmar, artist in residence at Babson, includes an audio composition of 5 musical movements produced from actual data of the five buildings’ electricity expenditure. To “lure the passer-by into stopping to require within the sound, A video accompanies the composition,” says Wheeler. Next to the video projection could be a flowing sculpture made of a printout of the score.


Including Babson facilities, who provided her with the kilowatt-hour energy use of the buildings—a spreadsheet with over 86,000 numbers, While conceiving and developing the exhibit, Wheeler collaborated with several groups. Sound artist and Emerson College professor Maurice Methot helped her translate the numbers into a composition as art students from Wellesley College suggested Wheeler explore working with sound for the exhibit.



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Would equal a note, decided Wheeler, with low-usage numbers being low tones and, conversely, high-usage numbers being high tones are each number, which represents a kilowatt-hour of electricity usage.


Krcmar says, “It’s intentional—that reasonably getting under your skin. She wants you to understand that intensity of use isn’t something that we should always be striving for. The lower pitch is more musical and soothing.”


Played on a digital synthesizer were Four of the movements. Skilled sight-readers as they are, The fifth was played on the piano by Wheeler’s brother and mother. Wheeler says that the duet brings the digital data back to “analog human energy.” Their two sets of hands playing are shown on several of the videos. Other videos, which Wheeler both filmed and located, include footage of moths set to the scores.


Krcmar says, “and numbers become sort of a word that’s repeated too often. We don’t really consider what they mean. The exhibit reasonably hits you on a visceral level where your teeth grate a bit on the high notes and you think that, well, maybe those numbers are a controversy.”

Wheeler says the exhibit isn’t overtly telling people what they must consider energy consumption. It’s striving to represent an intangible element— energy consumption—via sound and visuals.