Atomic Art
Tony Price - Life & Times
essay by James Rutherford
     It was also at this time that Price re-discovered the salvage yard at the Los Alamos National Laboratories, which he had first become aware of two years earlier after seeing exotic shapes of glass and metal at the home of his friend, renowned photographer Walter Chappell. This was the beginning of what became his most important artistic effort. “Los Alamos to me was finding a place of just pure raw materials and fantastically, beautifully shaped metals. I found it a perfect mountain of art to experiment with, to create with and I go out looking for specific parts and sometimes there it’d be right there just as if hundreds of men had machined these things for hundreds of hours and cart it out and dump it right there in front of my feet” he said.
     Although Price continued to utilize his skills as a stone carver to produce sculptures to sell as a way to support himself, he became so impassioned about what he referred to as “our nuclear nightmare” that he dedicated the next 30+ years of his life to creating his Atomic Art.
     “The artist has to take responsibility to keep people awake to these horrors and I feel a type of responsibility to build these things from this place. The hope is that it would wake them up, it would remind them, it would get them thinking about it. It’s all our problem, it’s not just the artist’s problem…but it’s the problem of everybody” Price said. 
      His early pieces made from Lab salvage were often utilitarian items such as tables, chairs and utensils and other items he needed at the time. Many pieces had an element of sound and emanated amazing, ethereal tones. It was also at this time he began to create monumental works such as the giant gongs he called “Maya’s Song” after his first daughter.
This piece, made from large metal cylinders suspended from a huge scaffold, could be seen from the road in a large field in El Rancho, NM. “Los Alamos scrap is a kind of pure art in itself, since you are dealing with a harmonic principle of nuclear physics”.   
     It was through his discovery of these gongs and Price’s giant music box that filmmaker and activist, Godfrey Reggio (Quatsi trilogy , Anima Mundi etc.) would eventually meet Tony Price, who became one of his closest friends and confidants. He described the encounter: “Upon driving in I saw this huge squared box with glass panels all around with an enormous snorkel on the top that had speakers in it. I climbed into the box and saw the mind of Tony Price at work. It was fantastic. Here were five piano harps, one on the ceiling, one on each of the walls – just an absolute work of brilliance as a tool, as an instrument. It played beautiful music. There was a guitar in there. If you played it, the strings would recycle what you played in their own vibration. It was like entering another dimension
     Music was a form of meditation for Price: “The question that faces all explorers is: How do you get inside and explore in these other dimensions? Right now, my way of getting inside is through my music. I build music boxes made of four walls and a ceiling of piano harps. I get inside it and play open guitar beginning with a basic harmonic. When it lines up as a pure harmonic, the energy produces an overtone.
Then I line up the overtones and they split into two, four, eight, sixteen. To do this you have to totally listen to what you're doing. Listening is surrendering to what you want to hear and puts you in the now. I've found that when you slow time in the now, you have a virtuality to explore”.

Click here for samples of Price's music

Tony Price - Life & Times
essay by James Rutherford