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America

Published on December 15th, 2013 | by Dawn Chan - magazine nytimes.com

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Art Matters | Taking Back the Steel Drum From the Hippies

“The steel drum is the most misunderstood instrument in the world,” says the Trinidadian curator Everard Findlay. He admits that for many people, it evokes “guys on a cruise ship, with a smile and dreadlocks.” On Tuesday and Wednesday, Findlay hosted “7 Drums 7 Artists,” a cross-disciplinary tribute to the steel pan at NeueHouse, a co-working space in the Flatiron district that opened in April. Designed by Rockwell Group, NeueHouse, which bills itself as “a new way to work,” features art magazines hanging from wall-mounted racks and glass-globe chandeliers that lower from pulleys at night when the space becomes a venue. The co-founder, Joshua Abram, says that “learning happens at the edge of one’s network”; as part of that philosophy, NeueHouse offers evening cultural programming for its members that brings together artists, scientists, filmmakers and musicians.

At the heart of the project were seven artworks, created by artists (including Rita Ackerman and Olaf Bruening), musicians and scientists, each of which incorporated a steel drum. But “7 Drums 7 Artists” was also partly a tribute to Dr. Elliott Mannette, the 82-year-old Trinidadian inventor of numerous game-changing steel-drum innovations (many with impressive-sounding names like Invader Lead, Quad-duet, Six Bass). On Wednesday, he chatted on stage with the Swedish electronic musician Olof Dreijer, who played the audience eerie electronic soundscapes built from steel-drum samples. The day before, Mannette had appeared in conversation with Brian Greene, a physicist at Columbia and the author of popular science books on string theory. He posed a question about the the workings of Mannette’s beloved drums: Could a robot with perfect computational prowess listen to the sounds of a drum and work backward to deduce the exact shape of its curved surface?

“I see the shape right away,” Mannette replied, “just hearing the song on a radio!” Greene started in with a technical response but was drowned out as the crowd erupted in applause.

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