About the Artist

b. 1948, Cleveland, OH

Paul DeMarinis has been making digital sound sculptures, electronic music, and other works since the mid-seventies. In that era, many artists were strongly influenced by the thinking of music composer John Cage, who was interested in the act of hearing itself, and chose not to make distinctions among noise, ambient sound, and music. DeMarinis’ work has been exhibited in art museums around the world, and he served as artist-in-residence at the Exploratorium. Paul DeMarinis is a professor at Stanford University.

In the Gallery

Questions for Visual Analysis

Use the video link above or reflect during or following a Museum visit.



  • What do you see when you look at this artwork?
  • What do you hear? Now, close your eyes and just listen to the work. How is this experience different than using your vision and hearing together?
  • What associations do you have with this sound? What does it sound like to you?
  • How might the environment that houses the installation (a small, darkened room) impact your experience with the artwork?


Paul DeMarinis is interested in blurring the lines between music, noise, and ambient sound. 

  • Would you put this installation in one of these categories? Explain which one, if any, and why. How else might you describe this installation?
  • How might the title of this piece, Tympanic Alley, relate?

The installation is made up of 60 small loudspeakers hanging from the ceiling. Each is covered by a small aluminum pie tin. A metal “clapper” hangs from the wires on which the speakers are strung. When the speaker is on, the pulse of electricity runs through the prong, causing a vibration that activates it to tap the pie tin, then runs back through the circuit that makes the speaker pop, and the cycle begins again. We hear the sound of metal on metal, the echo of this sound, and the clicks of the current in the speakers.

  • Listen more carefully than before. Can you distinguish between these sounds?
  • Why might the artist have chosen aluminum pie plates?

DeMarinis’ installation plays with vibration and sound, bringing to life the workings of the eardrum and how we hear.


  • How would the installation differ if the artist chose different materials or a variety of materials? See if you can create a sound installation of your own using other found or everyday objects. What does this installation sound like? What do the sounds remind you of? How does the experience of being inside this installation differ from an experience in DeMarinis’ work?


Low-Tech: Listening to Found Sounds


Sit quietly in a selected environment—classroom, outdoors, etc. Pay close attention to the sounds you hear, writing them down. Which stand out to you and why? How would you categorize these sounds? Music? Noise? Ambient sounds? If you were to create your own sounds to add to this soundscape, what would they be? Try it out and see how this changes the sound environment.


Low-Tech: Vibrations and Creating a Sound Installation


Study how the tympanic membrane, or eardrum, is examined in DeMarinis’ artwork. Explore ways vibrating materials make sound and sound can make materials vibrate. In small groups, collect a variety of everyday objects that make sounds, ranging from metal pots/pans, and materials that vibrate, such as a stretched rubber band or string. Experiment with holding a piece of paper near a speaker to make it vibrate. Then, select the most interesting sounds and create a vibrating sound installation that other groups of students can “visit” and explore.


Ambient Sound



Tympanic Membrane