Music of the (delicious reddish) spheres


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It’s a family joke that I spend hours during the summer sitting on the broken-down sofa on my back porch watching the tomatoes ripen, so I was naturally interested to hear that a gallery I like is doing an exhibition that makes music -- and a streaming wall projection -- of the tomato-ripening process. You can watch (and help) the tomatoes ripen in the Machine Project gallery on Alvarado Street on Thursday afternoon or attend the free performance event Friday at 8 p.m.

Artists Chris Chafe (music), Nikolaos Hanselmann (visuals) and Greg Niemeyer (cook) have collaborated on the project, a weirdly compelling piece that consists of five plastic cases that look a bit like old-fashioned covered cake stands with wires and tubes attached. In each case is a plate with a pile of tomatoes -- several varieties, sizes and colors. As the tomatoes ripen, they emit CO2 and the instruments measure the changing gas levels.


The changes are continuously graphed visually and sonically, so you see on the wall projection a flow of colored triangles from each of five circles representing the tomato cases. And you hear a musical soundtrack -- when I was there, a steady squeaky-hamster-wheel sound was the bass note, punctuated by erratic sharp pings and long, slow waves of a kind of wind-in-big-pipes moaning. You can blow oxygen into a tube attached to each case if you like, aiding and abetting the ripening.

The gallery handout says what we’re witnessing is ‘climacteric respiration’; if you’ve ever sat in a forest or a garden and sensed the plants breathing, you’ll appreciate how the exhibit heightens and celebrates this sensation. And if you come on Friday, you’ll get to eat pasta with sauce made from the tomatoes in the work.

Tomato Quintet. Performance Friday, Aug. 31, 8 p.m. Machine Project, 1200-D N. Alvarado St. (near Sunset), Los Angeles, (213) 483-8761. More details at

-- Susan LaTempa