Montreal sound artist gives historic Humboldt Water Tower new life as instrument, art venue 

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Continuing interest in the water tower, despite its failing condition, led local officials to secure grants and invest in a major renovation for the tower, adding a new paint job and items such as the spiral staircase to enhance the visitor viewing experience. Photo Credit: Becky Zimmer

Built in 1915 to resemble a coastal lighthouse, the historic Humboldt Water Tower is being given new life as an art venue.

One of only four such eye-catching towers standing in Saskatchewan, it recently hosted a Montreal sound artist who wrote a composition specifically to be performed with the help of its unique acoustics. The performance utilized multiple speakers and monitors at different heights inside the 25-metre tower, using hundreds of metres of cable and tactile transducers that vibrated the structure, essentially making the historic tower itself an instrument.

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Photo Credit: City of Humboldt

“It’s kind of all about the space and its resonance — the sounds surrounding the place and creating music or sound from that environment,” sound artist Jen Reimer told local media outlet Discover Humboldt. “It’s taking sounds from a natural space and hearing music to bring it out from what’s already there in the environment.”

Reimer uses pre-recorded sounds that depend on creative placement of the speakers throughout the entire structure to create a surreal auditory experience. Speakers even line the stunning spiral staircase that visitors slowly ascend to the top of the tower.

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On her website, Reimer says that she “spent three days recording the sound of the wind as it activated the resonant frequencies of the tower. The tower became a resonant filter, transforming the wind’s movement into musical tones, timbre, rhythms, and subsonic vibrations. There are melodies in the air.”

The tower had essentially been abandoned for several decades and fell into disrepair. Still, it remained a tourist attraction for the province. Once it came to discussions about demolishing the water tower during the 1990s, it ignited certain members of the community to pursue fundraising efforts for a restoration. The lingering interest led local officials to secure grants and invest in a major renovation for the tower, adding a new paint job and items such as the spiral staircase to enhance the visitor viewing experience.

One of the toughest jobs during the water tower’s restoration, said local officials, was tackling the decades of bird droppings that had accumulated.

“Historic buildings have become an endangered species on the Prairies,” narrates a short documentary on the tower’s restoration process. 

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Photo Credit: City of Humboldt

The tower has since been selected as one of only nine projects across Canada that are part of the Heritage Canada Foundation Landmark Preservation Program.

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