Kinetic energy

A new public art piece uses the power of wind to create harmonies of sound and light

Patrick Zentz used photos of this petroglyph as the basis of “Taba Turbine.”

Patrick Zentz used photos of this petroglyph as the basis of “Taba Turbine.”

Courtesy Of Alvin Mclane

The Reno foothills are a far cry from the peaks of Austria, but nevertheless, these hills are alive with the sound of music. It just took the scientific know-how and creative artistry of Montana native Patrick Zentz to make them sing.

Zentz, 55, is the mastermind behind the Reno-Sparks Convention Center’s new public art piece, “Taba Turbine.” You may have already seen the 55-foot-high steel grid topped with a spherical turbine as you drove past the convention center, which is based on a photograph of a petroglyph found in the area by Alvin McLane. But that outdoor structure is only the tip of the artistic iceberg. Inside the building is where Zentz’s lifelong passion for studying energy and the environment becomes evident.

“I have done a lot of research on physics, but also sound and every form of information that I can relative to energy components in the environment, whether that’s people moving en masse on streets or whether it’s flow of water in a creek or wind,” Zentz says.

On the ceiling inside the convention center’s north entry, you’ll see a circular array of tuning forks, but it’s also a topographical map. The circle represents a 60-mile radius surrounding the center, and each tuning fork has been cut to a length representing the altitude of the landscape at two-mile intervals; short forks make higher notes, while longer forks produce lower notes. When the wind spins the huge metal turbine outside, small hammers hit the tuning forks to create a kind of music.

On the ceiling inside the Virginia Street entry is a planar map, depicting the major lakes, waterways and highways of the area. Wind from the outside turbine causes a 40-foot laser to project onto the floor, reflecting the direction of the wind.

“I work a lot with wind because it’s a ubiquitous element in any environment, and it is one of the elements that contemporary science is dealing with [in terms of] current theory on chaos and complexity,” Zentz says. “I do research on those and try to incorporate elements in them that I feel can have some kind of public manifestation and mean something in the public context of the work.”

Despite the highly scientific nature of Zentz’s artwork, he has no formal training in either physics or sound, though he did earn his bachelor’s degree in biology. He received his master of fine arts degree from the University of Montana at Missoula in 1974, and he started ranching in 1978 to “supplement the art debts.” Zentz is still a rancher today as he continues to work on public art projects across the country.

And though his towering steel sculpture has definitely made its mark in the Reno landscape, Zentz says Reno has also made its mark on him.

“One thing I’ve really enjoyed with this project, specifically, is getting to know this community a little better," he says. "My crew and I have been treated incredibly well here, and I’ve really enjoyed the whole process."