Steve Parker’s melancholy sound machine, ‘Foghorn Elegy’


Recently, Steve Parker has been thinking about fog horns — their mournful and melancholic sound, how they have (mostly) disappeared from the maritime soundscape along with signal flags, another defunct means of communication.

“I’m interested in how these nautical tools are used to navigate space, but also help us to navigate memory,” Parker says. “For me, they stir up intense emotions of sadness, loneliness, and melancholy. I’m also attracted to the way that these utilitarian machines can feel so human, lyrical, and almost wheeze or breath.”

Foghorns fit within the practice of the intrepid and prolific Austin artist, who has staged a performance for conch shell ensemble and community megaphone choir and a playable sound sculpture modeled after a WWII era short wave radio, among other performance installations.

On Nov. 4, Parker’s latest installation, “Foghorn Elegy” will be activated by a performance that includes dancers, musicians and an 11-track audio soundscape that Parker recorded on brass instruments in his garage.

Made of salvaged marching band instruments (sousaphones, trombones, euphoniums, and trumpets), defunct maritime equipment and nautical wayfinding tools, “Foghorn Elegy” sits on the shores of Lake Austin on the grounds of the Contemporary Austin’s Laguna Gloria campus. A tower-like sculpture, echoes the antenna farm across Lake Austin from the museum, and functions as a framing device.

“Foghorn Elegy” is a commission from The Contemporary Austin, the first of the new Laguna Gloria Art Fund, a two-year series of artist projects that activate the Laguna Gloria grounds and its Marcus Sculpture Park.

The Nov. 4 activation of “Foghorn Elegy” is free though a reservation is needed. Reserve free tickets at

Parker spent the first half of this year at the American Academy in Rome where he was one of 22 Americans selected for the highly competitive fellowship. At times, when Italy went into pandemic lockdown, they had the streets and monuments Eternal City seemingly to themselves, a wonderous yet thought-provoking experience.

“I’m interested in this broader idea of gradual disappearance without fanfare,” says Parker. “So many facets of life are evaporating without notice and often quickly forgotten. This work is, in a way, an elegy for this collective loss.”


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