Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The whole world is listening

One of the most unsung (pun intended) aspects of theater is sound. It was the technical job I enjoyed most, choosing a musical and sound landscape for several community-theater plays in Ontario (winning awards along the way) and doing sound design for several school musicals in New York.

The sound designer affects, even manipulates, the audience's emotions and quite often, they don't even realize it.

I recently covered for the website allaboutbedford the opening of a mind-expanding sound art exhibit:

The Caramoor Center in Katonah, which usually presents a wide range of summer music, expanded its sound palette with the June 7 opening of “In the Garden of Sonic Delights,” a fascinating collection of installations throughout the 90-acre grounds.

Six years in the making, “Sonic Delights” also involves works at five other locations in Westchester, including the Jacob Burns Film Center and the Lyndhurst historic mansion, and runs through Nov. 2. Full details are available here.

At Caramoor, opening day patrons enjoyed a sunny afternoon as they encountered 15 sound experiences in open grass fields or tucked into the Italianate buildings and gardens of the estate.

"The Pianohouse" sound art by Trimpin.
German artist Trimpin contributed “The Pianohouse,” a structure built from discarded Steinway piano soundboards and featuring various items such as hammers that strike or pluck the strings. A visitor can push an attached doorbell, setting off a random array of Rube Goldberg-like actions and creating a strange and wondrous song.

At an afternoon panel discussion, Trimpin noted that even a disability is no bar to having “a great experience” at “The Pianohouse,” as a blind person can touch the exhibit and a deaf person can feel the vibrations.

“Over time, ‘The Pianohouse’ will musically ‘deconstruct’ itself, as a result of weather and other environmental conditions. The instruments will collectively experience these effects, slowly changing the pitch and other parameters,” Trimpin wrote in the exhibit program.

All of the installations were newly commissioned and interact with their environment. “Wild Energy,” by Annea Lockwood and Bob Bielecki, buried 18 speakers in a leafy grove. A sign identifies the earth sounds that were recorded and are broadcast through the speakers. They include whale song, very low frequency radio waves, gas vents and the crack of an earthquake. Two hammocks induce visitors to lie down and listen deeply.

“We were tantalized by the vibrational data central to the running of the planet. These vibrations are passing through our bodies. I started getting fixated on (the PBS science show) Nova and we accumulated sound files from many scientists,” Lockwood said at the panel discussion.

“Sonic Delights” Curator and Artistic Director Stephan Moore noted that the exhibits run through the fall and that the natural environment will change the experience. He urged participants to “come back when the cicadas are out and the leaves are falling.”

The opening day program also presented a sound art concert. Under the white Reception Tent, the audience was seated in concentric circles, facing outward.

Moore and Scott Smallwood (whose installation, “Coronium 3500 (Lucie’s Halo),” consisted of tiny solar panels on stilts making delicate noises) were seated at the center of the tent.

As a duo called Evidence, they played software instruments to create a variety of sounds that played off and interacted with each other – crickets, thumps, taps, chimes, surf, rain, murmured voices.

The work also created emotion, often depending upon tempo. For this listener, the deep chug-chug of what sounded like the heartbeat of the world resulted in a surprising sense of need and longing. Ears that are usually attuned to music at first heard the soundscape as an annoying cacophony, but relaxing into the aural landscape eventually resulted in a state of wondering meditation.

In the second half of the evening, audience members were able to concentrate fully on artist Francisco L√≥pez’ soundscape, since he distributed blindfolds, explaining to the audience that “without seeing, you hear better.”

“In the Garden of Sonic Delights” is appropriate for all ages. It is open Thursday-Sunday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is $10.00. Children under 12 are free. Admission includes all-day access to the Caramoor grounds for the exhibition, picnics and walks.

On Sunday, July 20, there will be a daylong celebration with two additional sound art works (“Rainforest IV” by David Tudor and “Sisyphus 2.0” by the Nerve Tank), lectures, demonstrations, a panel discussion and concert.