Fire Artist Creates Sculptures with Propane, Music & High Voltage

Rusty Oliver with his "Rubens' Tubes" - by controlling the flow of propane in the tubes, he syncs the flames with sound waves. (image: Jim Merithew/

Propane isn’t exactly well known as an artistic medium, but one Seattle fire artist is making a splash with his unique brand of propane-fueled audio flame sculptures. In an interview last week with, Rusty Oliver described his art as “iterative engineering” experimentation, and showed off one of propane’s more creative applications!

Obviously, working with propane and fire requires a lot of safety training and expertise, so Oliver presents his sculptures more like performances than permanent installation pieces. One such work, entitled “The Singularity,” involves a hoop of copper piping with several nozzles pointing inward. By manipulating the dials on multiple propane canisters feeding the pipes, Oliver is able to create a blue-white fireball in the middle of the hoop.

“I built this for a very specific purpose, which is to see if I could keep a ball of fire static in the middle,” Oliver said, noting that playing with fire “was the first kind of art I found really gripping.”

His most recent project combines flames, music, and high voltage. Using two “Rubens’ Tubes,” long perforated propane pipes connected to an audio source, he can regulate the propane current to sync up to the musical sound waves. The flames change size and shape, acting as a sort of burning equilizer meter or spectral analyzer like you see on most stereos and other sound equipment.

See for yourself – here’s a taste of Oliver’s “Rubens’ Tubes” at his workspace shop, the Hazardfactory.

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