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May graduate Dane Olson can tell you the precise moment he began his Division III: One afternoon during his third year at Hampshire he was "just playing around," listening to a recording of Alvin Lucier's "Music on a Long Thin Wire." Intrigued, Olson taped a broken guitar neck to a railing outside his third-floor residence hall room and hung speaker wires weighted with 200 pounds of rocks toward the ground to see what sounds he could create. That spontaneous little experiment inspired a project he would immerse himself in over the next year and a half, culminating in the creation of a new—and very large—musical instrument and earning him a degree in physics and music.
In order to graduate, every Hampshire student must complete an in-depth, original, independent project, known as the Division III. The project takes at least the final year of study and is guided by a committee of faculty mentors recruited by the student. Students often blend academic disciplines in unexpected ways, working across traditional boundaries to explore new intellectual or creative territory.
Olson considers the Singing Tower an improvisational instrument. "I or anyone else can step into it and breathe something new into it," he said. He sees potential for adding visual appeal to performances, through lighting or dance as the musician climbs up and down the steps, perhaps with other performers on stage. He is pleased to have produced a new instrument rather than pursuing a more traditional musical project, such as writing a score. "It is there to manipulate and improvise. It becomes the score," he said.
The tower was designed to collapse into manageable pieces for moving, with three people required to assemble and disassemble it. Following graduation, Olson carried it home with him to New Hampshire and, with his usual discipline and diligence, is continuing the work of mastering its musical potential. He is also in the process of patenting the Singing Tower. His future plans include graduate school in electro-acoustic music, and continued pursuit of the interest in creative metalworking that Hampshire's Lemelson Center helped him discover.