Laura Maes

By Amelia Kahl & Spencer Topel
Aug 01, 2018


Handmade electronics and mixed media
Entryway, Cummings Hall, Thayer School of Engineering

The daily movement of the sun is a familiar and consistent feature of life on earth. Laura Maes’s Spikes captured this energy, translating it into sound at once random and organized. Spikes comprised 200 solar-powered circuits that produce clicking sounds. As solar panels attached to the exterior of Cummings Hall at the Thayer School of Engineering gathered energy, they completed circuits mounted on the ceiling of the building’s entrance atrium. Each of these 200 circuits produced a clicking sound at a specific frequency. The sound varied by circuit, depending on the electronic components and the amount of energy captured by the panel. Different materials including ceramics, glass, wood, and copper, created clicks of different resonances. LEDs lit up in conjunction with the clicks as the circuits were completed. This random cluster of clicks made audible the sun’s energy as it changed over time. Sunnier days brought more clicks, and cloudier ones fewer. Spikes was silent at night. Mounted on the ceiling, the work transformed the space, visually orderly in its neat grid pattern, even as the clicking sounded haphazard.

This click-cluster had precedents including György Ligeti’s Poème symphonique. Created in 1962, Ligeti’s score called for 100 metronomes that would be started simultaneously at different speeds. The piece would play out as the metronomes wound down, typically ending with the ticking, and then silence, of the final metronome. It shared Spikes’s play with different rhythms and tempos and the tension between apparent chaos and emerging pattern. However, Maes’s work complicated the soundscape with the range of resonances produced by its varied components.


Laura Maes (born 1978) is a Belgian sound artist, composer, and musician. She received an MA in music in 2001 from the Royal Conservatory in Ghent and an MA in marketing management in 2002 from the Vlerick Leuven Ghent Management School. In 2013, at Ghent University, Belgium, she defended her PhD dissertation, “Sounding Sound Art: A Study of the Definition, Origin, Context, and Techniques of Sound Art.” Maes has worked as a curator for the arts center Vooruit, Gent, and for Happy New Ears, a festival for new music. She currently works at the Logos Foundation, a center for experimental music and sound art, and teaches classical guitar and ensemble at the Conservatory in Ostend. She is a member of the management boards of music education organizations vzw Kong (since 2004) and Musica (since 2013), and chairman of the public art festival the Crystal Ship (since 2016). Maes’s work has been exhibited across Europe, including at the arts center Vooruit in Gent; the Re:new festival, Copenhagen, Denmark; and the Usurp Gallery, London.

Spikes is a production of the Logos Foundation.

The Contributors

  • Amelia Kahl Headshot

    Amelia Kahl is the associate curator of academic programming at the Hood Museum of Art. She runs the museum’s Bernstein Center for Object Study and teaches with the museum’s 65,000-object collection across the Dartmouth curriculum. Her exhibition projects for the Hood have included "Water Ways: Tension and Flow" (2015), "The Stahl Collection" (2015, co-curated with Barbara MacAdam, Jonathan L. Cohen Curator of American Art), and "Emmet Gowin Dreams of Stars" (2014).

  • Topel Headshot

    Spencer Topel creates installations and performance pieces that are immersive experiences, fusing sound, visual components, and interactive expression. Trained in music conservatories as a composer and violinist, he produced work for orchestral and chamber ensembles for over twenty years. In 2011 he collaborated with sculptor Soo Sunny Park on a yearlong installation titled Capturing Resonance, presented at deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Since then, Topel’s practice has expanded to include visual art in a distinctive body of work that engages artwork as observer and listener, where installations gain agency in the interactions between visitors and environments.