Artist Kara Crombie is inviting Philadelphia locals to jam out on her new interactive sound sculpture she calls “Sample Philly” Saturday in Franklin Square Park.
Crombie’s giant synthesizer features an archive of musical loops from Philadelphia’s rich music history. She said to think of the sculpture like the keyboard from the movie “Big.” One key could be a rock ‘n roll guitar riff; another may be spoken word. By pressing the sculpture’s arcadelike buttons, you can choose a Schoolly D beat, add a Hall & Oates baseline, and put some Patti LaBelle vocals on top.
“A 10-year-old kid could walk up to this, and they’re going to maybe hear Patti LaBelle for the first time,” Crombie said. “Or somebody’s going to discover Sun Ra. Or somebody’s going to realize that Sister Rosetta Tharpe was from Philadelphia.”
The design is part of Monument Lab, a public art project from Mural Arts Philadelphia and curators Paul Farber and Ken Lum.
On Saturday, Crombie and kids from The Advocate Center for Culture and Education will perform a song they built together — a Schoolly D beat with an Archie Bell & The Drells baseline, and a Sun Ra riff. In light of cuts to art education in Philadelphia, Crombie said she wanted to create something that would help kids produce music.
“I didn’t want to make a static monument. I wanted to make something that was interactive and evolving,” she said. “I was also thinking about how kids in our city don’t have access to music-production skills or art classes, and I wanted to bridge that gap.”
Jane Golden, the founder and executive director of Mural Arts Philadelphia, said Crombie’s sculpture speaks to the profound history of music in the city.
“The rich musical tradition of Philadelphia is astounding, and I think that it is, in essence, almost like the autobiography of our city,” Golden said. “It talks about our lives, our struggles — not unlike murals.”
Over the next nine weeks, 21 artists from Monument Lab will answer one essential question: “What is your vision for a monument that represents Philadelphia.” Their work will be on display at public squares and neighborhood parks across the city. Along with Mural Arts Philadelphia, the artists are inviting locals to join the conversation about Philadelphia’s vibrant history and where the city stands in 2017.