Sound Scene Installation: Wooden Arch (3/4)

Before you listen to this episode, try to be near something made of wood that means something to you, or simply feels nice. A piece of furniture or a hand-carved object works. The soundscape featured in this episode is also better listened to with company, so… get a listening buddy if you can! 

On June 4th and 5th of 2022, we exhibited an interactive installation of Material Feels, titled Conversations with the Material World, as a part of Sound Scene, at the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C. The work features four sculptures, each accompanied by a narrated soundscape designed with the material, maker and process in mind. The wooden arch referenced in this episode was created by Dominque Tutwiler; to see what the sculpture looked like, check out pictures of the on Instagram, @materialfeels, or images on the podcast’s website,

Learn more about Dominique’s work as a furniture designer:

Learn more about Sound Scene:

Check out a virtual tour of the piece on the Material Feels Instagram:


Dominique Tutwiler, Catherine Monahon, Elizabeth de Lise; sound, voice, wood (walnut)

Please pick up the piece in front of you with both hands.

This curve started out as a flat plane, transformed with careful geometry and nine cuts.

Press on the surface of the wood. Tap your fingertips, make some noise. Your touch reverberates through the arch; through the natural grain as well as the remixed trails of growth that Dominique has sliced apart and pressed back together.

Close your eyes and feel, rather than measure,

the distance between the corner in your left hand and the corner in your right. Rotate the curve, feel the center of gravity shift.

Open your eyes to place the piece back down on the pedestal, and close them again.

With your fingers, read the angles on the crest as they rise and fall, like waves, or sand dunes, or rock formations.

It is the language of geometry, and the woodworker is fluent – they speak it to move the conversation beyond what is to what can be.

2-dimensional becomes 3-dimensional.

A flat plane becomes a curve.

What curves might you create?

In the woodshop:

Stay aware of your body in relation to your material at all times;

If the cut is wrong, the angle is off, or something slips, 

You could seriously hurt yourself, or maim the material, wasting it.




Your fingertips dance along the surface.

Your hands run along the varied ridges of a live edge.

Your wrists flick, brushing away leftover dust.

Your eyes, fixed on the place where blade and material meet, watch a cut unfold.




The decision to make a cut is slow. 

There is checking. Double checking.

Run your finger down one of the outside grooves. These lines are an intention. A permanent path. A commitment.

Next, feel the crinkly sawdust spread out around the piece, the tiny particles of walnut that were split apart when these grooves were made. Pick up a pinch and feel them between your fingers. Let them fall back down to the pile. 

Turn your attention to your hands. Have a look at the lines that criss cross the skin. Trace the grooves: the scars, the blemishes. The smooth parts, the chapped parts.

What choices led to these etchings?

How have you shifted the geometry of your own surface?

Take a closer look at the surface of Dominique’s piece.

The ebb and flow of the wood grain is the record of this walnut tree’s life. Like the recorded time in your hands, each layer is potent, lived experience.

The closer the lines are, the tighter the grain. 

The tighter the grain, the slower the growth.

The slower the growth, the stronger material.

The lighter parts indicate seasons of growth, while the darker lines signify the slower seasons. This pattern is a rhythm of rest and renewal. Layers of growth also hold very specific information about climate conditions this tree experienced; pests, natural disasters.

We interact with wood everyday, in a range of forms. From trees and buildings to furniture and cooking utensils.

What’s your relationship like with this material?

I spent time with a walnut tree in the backyard of another life.

I hung a hammock underneath that tree and would lay there on quiet days, watching the lime green leaves fluttering in the wind, more delicate than the leaves of their eucalyptus and avocado neighbors. Like a kid looking up at a mobile, I was mesmerized by the currents of wind in their halo.

I no longer call that place home, but that walnut tree still stands in the breeze, breathing with the seasons. Folks indigenous to Huchiun, an unceded Lisjan Ohlone territory where I lived, fostered walnut groves for thousands of years before;

These trees are life-giving.

A tree’s lifespan varies depending on the species; walnut can live from 150 to over 250 years. That’s up to ten human generations in one being. 

In one lifetime, we are lucky if we get a taste of five: our parents and grandparents, our own lives, our children and our grandchildren. Even then we might only get a decade on either end.

My hands on the surface of this walnut’s heartwood, 

I think of all those I call family, and the wisdom and love of ten generations, saturated in one being.

Think about the place you currently call home. 

Run your mind over the interior spaces you love best. Walk yourself outside, too – recall the smells, what the light touches, your favorite spot to sit. 

How does heartwood, the vertebrae of trees, support you there?

How does it bring you relief, or sustenance? 

How does it invite you to rest, or hold the things you love?

How can we return that embrace?

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