Sunday, May 19, 2024

College puts kaleidoscope to total eclipse

Keynote speaker Glenn McClure explores the intersections between eclipses and all areas of life, referencing his experiences as a fellow in Antarctica. McClure, who is a composer, also played two of his cosmic-themed pieces.



By Aleksandra Sidorova

The topic of the total solar eclipse took a turn for the scientific, mythological and creative in the Totality Conference on SUNY Plattsburgh’s last Friday before its online and physical countdowns reached zero.

Concurrent discussion sessions and lectures explored the topic of eclipses through personal experiences, psychology, history, religion, literature, social justice and comedy. The conference also featured a keynote speaker and a sculpture pour.



Keynote speaker Glenn McClure, a composer, spoke about the ways eclipses intersect with all life fields and how the eclipse fits into one’s understanding of things bigger than themself. 

McClure explored how the community might react to sharing the astronomical event with tens of thousands of visitors expected to flock to the North Country.

“We’re going to be sharing our experience with a whole bunch of folks who are going to be up here for one or two days. What does that mean? Does it mean we get grumbly? We don’t want those tourists here — this is our eclipse,’’ McClure joked, raising his fist.

McClure also shared his experiences in Antarctica as a National Science Foundation fellow and played video recordings of two space-related musical pieces that he produced by converting scientific data into sound, what he called “mathematical harmony.” 

“Totality,” performed by the ensemble fivebyfive at the Strasenburgh Planetarium in Rochester, New York, got its motifs by converting duration data recorded at several locations along an eclipse’s path of totality into rhythm and pitch.

McClure wrote “Rosetta: Variations on a Day in Space,” based on data collected by European Space Agency scientists. The composition’s first segment included the unaltered sonification — conversion of raw data into sound. The piece was performed by the European Space Agency Center Community Choir in 2015.

The music is “celestial in the most universal way,” an audience member sporting an eclipse-themed shirt told McClure.



Right after the keynote, associate professors of art Drew Goerlitz and Ali Della Bitta poured a sculpture commemorating the eclipse. 

Onlookers at the balcony overlooking the Myers Fine Arts Building sculpture garden, which some might call a scrapyard, saw the creation of a flat disk featuring an aluminum moon and a bronze outer ring — a metallic rendition of a solar eclipse in its totality phase.

“It’s like cooking, but I’m cooking at 1,850 degrees,” Goerlitz said before pouring the molten bronze, which glowed like lava.

The crucible and its handles weigh about 50 pounds, and it held at least 30 pounds of bronze — “not super, super heavy,” Goerlitz said. A pound of bronze costs about $10.

In-between pouring bronze and aluminum, Goerlitz demonstrated basic concepts in the field of making metal sculptures, such as the application of an oxidizing polish that creates a green or brown layer of patina on the metal.

The sculpture will eventually be removed from the mold and the metal spilled outside will be cleaned up, but it isn’t clear where or whether it will be displayed on campus.

The conference was the final stop to get answers for the most burning eclipse-related questions before experiencing it firsthand.


Aleksandra Sidorova
Professors of art Drew Goerlitz and Ali Della Bitta pour molten bronze into the sculpture mold April 5. The design shows a solar eclipse in totality.
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