Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Orchestrating Nature: Notes on an artistic and scientific shift from music to soundscape

(photo: a detail of Edinburgh as walking up to Arthur's Seat )

Annea Lockwood is a composer born in New Zealand, studied in Europe, currently living in USA.
Having been attentant of the famous Darmstadt summer courses on modern music, and flirting naturally with the avant-garde artists of the 60's in USA: sound poets, visual artists, choreographers, composers like Philip Glass, builded her own music world by leading her imagination- and the world that followed her- to new paths of music creation. Or we could better say, sound creation?

There was a period for the avant-garde composers, where they searched for new sources of inspiration, questioning about the future of the post-war western art music. Some of them thought it's going to be the end of west music. Some others were shifting gradually from music to sound. Urban and natural sounds proved to be their new field for experimentation, their new material for compositions. Lockwood´s one of them. Among her most adventurous and charmy works, are her implement of the "river projects". The Soundmap of Hudson River (1982), The Soundmap of the Danube (2005), and, lately, a Soundmap of the Housatonic River (2010), remain at the top of my listening experiences. Focusing on the "River" cases, Lockwood used as much as she could from the "oral culture" of a river and what can surround it: She records everything: birds and animals, water on the surface, under the surface, close to a waterfall. Later, those recordings become embodied to compositions, or can stand as independent sound installations, located to specific museums.

At her programme note on her last "Soundmap of the Housatonic River" we read: "A Soundmap of the Housatonic River is a four-channel sound installation, it is an aural tracing of the river from its sources to Berkshires, Massachusetts, to Long Island Sound, Connecticut. Each recorded site is located on a wall map with a number. Beside the map is the corresponding number, followed by the time at which that site can be heard, the place name, and where the recording was made. The installation was commissioned by the Housatonic River Museum, a project in development in Berkshire County, Massachusetts"Moreover, the composer also is getting interested in life narratives, of persons whose life is connected with the rivers in various ways. At her "Soundmap of the Danube", among the tracks to the available disc pack, we listen to farmers, boat captains, pansion owners, fishermen etc, each of them having a unique story to confess from his\her life experiences with the river.*

What sounds even more interesting, is this parallel evolution of science. In terms of researching on music creation, Anthoropology, too, has turned its interest to the ethnography of sound. Sound, is for the ethnographer a connecting material of social relationships, and functions as a field where socially constructed emotions are being articulated. Sounds do make sense, as they are not simply tonal structures of music, but also participate to the building of natural and social systems. Additionally, an explosion of interest around Acoustic Ecology has lead to an increasement of related meetings, conferences and experience exchange among the ones who wish to get engaged musically with urban and nature soundscapes.

Following this latest scientific tensions, but in a more "everyday life" sense, composers, friends of nature, educators, acoustic ecologists and many others organize "soundwalkings" where one can participate. During a soundwalk one focuses on sounds or noises, while walking silent. One of the pioneers of those aural actions  is the composer Hildegard Westerkamp. Anyway Westerkamp is a huge interesting subject by her own, but so far, you can read some description of the experience from her
you can just take an (aural) impression of one of her soundwalk projects
or listen how she uses the recorded material to her compositions

*more info about Annea Lockwood

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