Blogs Field Guide

Making It: A Family Guide with Alyssa Baguss

For the third year in a row, the Walker’s Family Programs has commissioned a local artist to create an illustrated activity sheet for families. Traditionally unveiled at December’s Free First Saturday, these creations have taken the shape of a whimsical diagram of a playground-like museum (Andy Ducett, 2011); and a cleverly blended comic strip/map (Todd […]

For the third year in a row, the Walker’s Family Programs has commissioned a local artist to create an illustrated activity sheet for families. Traditionally unveiled at December’s Free First Saturday, these creations have taken the shape of a whimsical diagram of a playground-like museum (Andy Ducett, 2011); and a cleverly blended comic strip/map (Todd Balthazor, 2012). We’re delighted to continue this project and introduce the artist for this year’s activity sheet.

Alyssa Baguss put her own twist (and turns) on the idea of an interactive map to Walker galleries. To appreciate all that goes into her work, we asked the artist to share a bit about herself, her practice, and what she’s created.

Where did you grow up? 

Maquoketa, Iowa—you know where that is, right? I was always playing outside. If I wasn’t swimming I was up in a tree all day.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

What does your family do for fun?

When we are together (which isn’t as often as it used to be) we spend a lot of time outdoors. I’m really lucky to live with really easy-going funny people.

What was your first job?

I bused tables at a pancake house…..sticky maple syrupy tables.

When did you decide to commit to a career as an artist?

…..since I was 5? I didn’t pursue it as an actual career until I was in my early twenties when I realized that I would be living a horribly boring life if I couldn’t do my favorite thing every day.  I hate being bored.

What do you absolutely love to draw?

I love to draw technology and think about how it influences how we experience the world. I use drawing as a tool to problem solve and answer questions that I am thinking about.

aylssa fort_1

When you aren’t drawing you are…

Exploring nature, researching ideas, growing things, watching hot air balloons, playing an instrument or thinking about what I am going to draw next.

Who or what inspires you and your work?

For inspiration I visit galleries and museums, spend time in nature and do a lot of reading and research into things I’m curious about. I live by a pretty simple philosophy: be yourself, do what makes you happy and surround yourself with people who do the same. My family is exceptionally understanding of my…….intensity……and without that type of unconditional love the world wouldn’t be as shiny.

Tell us a little bit about your creative process for this gallery activity?

I spent a few years as an info guide at the Walker Art Center.  As an info guide, I was always giving directions to guests who were lost and complaining about the WAC being too much like a maze. A maze seemed like the perfect gallery activity where you may get confused, lost or take a wrong turn, and still see some incredible things along the way.

maze01_b

I researched the artwork and architecture at the Walker and Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and found pieces that interested me for the maze. I literally cut and pasted the composition together into a maze design with paper images, then drew the images with graphite. I tried not to make the maze too difficult but there are a few challenging areas. Just like the Walker, I want you to occasionally exclaim, “What?  How did we end up here?” Besides, I tend to find the best things when I get lost. Just embrace it.

maze05

Come to Free First Saturday on December 7 from 10 am–3 pm to pick up the final version of Alyssa’s interactive gallery activity.

Arty Pants: Yoga Moves

Despite the chill in the air outside, it was warm in the Walker on Tuesday.  Arty Pants tots and their grown-ups invaded Medtronic Gallery to gather on the rug.  Local dancer Ellie Ahmann from Minnesota Dance Theatre led a yoga workshop that would warm anyone’s heart.  Join us for the next yoga workshops on November 26 and December […]

Despite the chill in the air outside, it was warm in the Walker on Tuesday.  Arty Pants tots and their grown-ups invaded Medtronic Gallery to gather on the rug.  Local dancer Ellie Ahmann from Minnesota Dance Theatre led a yoga workshop that would warm anyone’s heart.

ecp2013ap_yoga1112_025

ecp2013ap_yoga1112_022

 Join us for the next yoga workshops on November 26 and December 10.  

 Photos by Gene Pittman

Art School: Public Practice

The intersection of art, craft, and public practice is often not an intersection at all, but a blur — a crossing of boundaries and experimental interactions that blend each into the next. Yet at the institutional level there are rules, categories, rooms for each that separate our understanding of these creative entities. This dichotomy was […]

guy cutting on rug

The intersection of art, craft, and public practice is often not an intersection at all, but a blur — a crossing of boundaries and experimental interactions that blend each into the next. Yet at the institutional level there are rules, categories, rooms for each that separate our understanding of these creative entities. This dichotomy was the focal point of the season’s opening session of Art School — our contemporary art education program for Walker members — on public practice. Sarah Schultz, the Walker’s curator of Public Practice and director of Education and Community Programs, was joined by Perry Allen Price, director of education for the American Craft Council, for a discussion of current artist in residence Fritz Haeg and his work in relation to public practice, craft, and what it all means in the context of contemporary art. After the program, participants headed to Fritz Haeg: At Home in the City in the Medtronic Gallery where local artists Michon Weeks and Kate Fisher taught how to turn old t-shirts into crocheted mini-rugs, a.k.a trivets.

closer-up of instruction

It is not hard to appreciate and desire to be a part of Haeg’s work. Although rooted in all things plant-related and -derived, his work requires human interaction and use. From the most recent (and final) Edible Estate created in Woodbury, Minnesota, to the installation currently in the Medtronic Gallery, all that he makes begins with gathering plants but ends with gathering people. It is this notion that blurs the lines even within the Walker: there are not guards, but hosts, in the Medtronic Gallery who serve tea and maintain the space. The question of “is it art?” does indeed get raised when an artist like Haeg stretches the boundaries of a museum and brings the outside, craft, and domesticity inside as an exhibit. Yet if the goal is not to understand but to experience it, Haeg falls securely within the realm of art.

instruction on rug

To better understand the history of the distinction between art and craft and how it is challenged today, Price introduced many artists who practice crafts such as ceramics, furniture design, weaving, and embroidery in ways that defy expectation. A fundamental belief of ceramics, for example, is that the object created be used, even if that degrades its quality and increases the risk of breakage. Warren MacKenzie, however, includes that risk of decay and destruction of the work as a part of making it – otherwise how could a mug ever be made to be a mug? This concept helped explain much of what Haeg does in creating work that becomes dirty, changes over time outside with the weather, and even gets eaten. But for both the potter and the public practice artist, their work is no less art because of its use. Rather than the term “craft,” perhaps a better one would be “functional art,” as personal involvement is retained after the creative process is complete – or rather, the creative process never ends.

girl cutting on rug

A large portion of Haeg’s residency also involves the visitor making something themselves, whether helping hand crochet the large rug, helping plant the Edible Estate, or just knitting up in the gallery. This interactive element joins the limits of craft with the ability of an art museum to produce a pioneering example of public practice in contemporary art. For it is in making something oneself that one can find a better understanding in relation to one’s domestic experience, and find that art is not only what hangs in a museum, but can be how one is a part of their community.

room shot

Making Fritz Haeg’s Rug

While the plants were growing outside in Fritz Haeg’s Foraging Circle, his crocheted rug was accruing mass inside the Walker. Once the Domestic Integrities A05 rug—or simply “the rug”—arrived to the Walker two weeks ago, it amassed 5 additional feet thanks to a team of enthusiastic volunteers who grew the rug’s diameter from 22 to 27 […]

While the plants were growing outside in Fritz Haeg’s Foraging Circle, his crocheted rug was accruing mass inside the Walker. Once the Domestic Integrities A05 rug—or simply “the rug”—arrived to the Walker two weeks ago, it amassed 5 additional feet thanks to a team of enthusiastic volunteers who grew the rug’s diameter from 22 to 27 feet in a brief three and a half days. While positioned in the Cargill Lounge, a very public centralized space in the Walker, the rug and its laborers attracted the attention of visitors and staff alike who were encouraged to take their shoes off to sit and learn about the communally-made artwork.

Artist Fritz Haeg demonstrating the crocheting technique. All photos by Gene Pittman.

Artist Fritz Haeg demonstrating the crocheting technique. All photos by Gene Pittman.

The entire rug is made from donated fabrics and clothing. The process involves cutting or ripping the textiles into strips that can be tied into the rug and woven in using a hand-crochet technique that’s very simple and requires no needles. We collected and used 300 lbs. of fabric to create the Minneapolis portion of the rug.

va-ecp2013haeg_di-rug0730_006

Beginning in Pennsylvania the rug first took form at Mildred’s Lane, a rural artist-run space led by J. Morgan Puett and Mark Dion. It was there that the epicenter was created with white and neutral-toned antique fabrics more than 100 years old. The next section is a colorful contrast representing clothing from Haeg’s Los Angelenos friends where you can find a few sequins and zippers in the mix. Then onto New York City where it grew further at the Museum of Modern Art, followed by another trip back to Los Angeles where it stayed at the Hammer Museum, and finally to the Walker Art Center. All of the five sections remain separate to make the transport of this heavy rug possible.

va-ecp2013haeg_di-rug0730_005

This is one of two rugs by Haeg that’s traveling around the United States along with a third one in Europe, that’s currently making its home at Pollinari an organic farm and artist residency center in Abruzzo, Italy.

va-ecp2013haeg_di-rug0730_027

The Domestic Integrities A05 rug now resides in the exhibition Fritz Haeg: At Home in the City where it will be on view in the Medtronic Gallery until November 24th. Haeg will be here throughout August inhabiting the rug, knitting, doing yoga, and sharing tea with visitors.

va-ecp2013haeg_di-rug0730_037

va-ecp2013haeg_di-rug0731_004

va-ecp2013haeg_di-rug0731_008

va-ecp2013haeg_di-rug0731_011

va-ecp2013haeg_di-rug0802_012

va-ecp2013haeg_di-rug0802_029

 

 

Talking Food at the Birchwood: Tracy Singleton Joins Fritz Haeg and Michael Pollan

When artist Fritz Haeg interviewed journalist Michael Pollan in Minneapolis this spring, the setting was key. The pair met up at the Birchwood Cafe, a foodie destination since 1995 and long a community hub for discussion and activism around sustainability. As their conversation neared its end, Birchwood owner Tracy Singleton — who’s also doing the […]

Lily Singleton, Tracy Singleton, and Michael Pollan at the Birchwood Café

Lily Singleton, Tracy Singleton, and Michael Pollan at the Birchwood Café

When artist Fritz Haeg interviewed journalist Michael Pollan in Minneapolis this spring, the setting was key. The pair met up at the Birchwood Cafe, a foodie destination since 1995 and long a community hub for discussion and activism around sustainability. As their conversation neared its end, Birchwood owner Tracy Singleton — who’s also doing the catering for the August 8, 2013, opening of Fritz Haeg’s Walker exhibition — joined in, and the trio discussed genetically modified organisms, the influence of another restauranteur, Berkeley’s Alice Waters, and the meals Pollan’s own mother made as he was growing up. Here’s an unpublished excerpt from the discussion that didn’t make our official interview between Haeg and Pollan:

Michael Pollan: I find it very empowering to learn that, “OK, here’s a bunch of people just making decisions about what to eat for dinner. We’re building a new food economy.” We all feel so helpless in the face of these huge problems, but we’re not, actually. If we organize our lives in the right way, we can have a tremendous impact. One of the things that draws people to this food issue is that they are seeing it happen in front of their eyes.

Tracy Singleton: When I try to talk to people about food and where it comes from, I don’t want to scare people or leave them feeling like they can’t go out to eat again.

Pollan: It’s definitely not all or nothing. I have to be really careful of that because people do feel like, “If I can’t go all the way, I am not going to go anywhere.” That’s why I said that last night [at Pollan's talk at Beth El Synagogue] that if you can just cook one more meal at home, that makes a difference. If you can spend $10 on local food every week, that makes a difference. We’re in this all-or-nothing culture, and I think that’s used to make people stop doing anything. “It’s not realistic for me to cut down my carbon footprint, so fuck it.” But to me, half a loaf is still half a loaf. It’s not trivial.

Singleton: I am noticing that a lot with the GMO [genetically modified organism] labeling issue. Once people become aware of GMOs, they’re like, “Well, I’m not going to eat those.” I say, “Good luck trying to avoid them!” As long as we’ve been in existence we’ve been trying to source our food under certain principles. But it can be hard to totally avoid them. With the non-GMO foods, people have this expectation: they think that because I’m talking about the issue they therefore think I’m a totally GMO-free restaurant. As much as I try to be–

Pollan:  —It’s is very hard to do. But not only that, a lot of people now think if they’ve made that choice, they have taken care of the whole issue.

Singleton: No. That’s not good enough either.

Pollan: In fact, people selling organic food are struggling with this because now the consumer feels that if they get the no-GMO label, they’ve done their bit. But in fact, they’ve only taken agriculture back to 1996, where it was not so great. People are not buying organic now and buying non-GMOs, which is really bad, because they are not connecting the dots. I was talking to someone who is selling some organic grain product or something, and she said, “Yeah, the consumer just feels like our stuff costs more and non-GMO costs a little bit more and they are figuring I have done my bit if I get that,” which is really a shame because it’s hurting organic producers.

Singleton: So if they are choosing a non-GMO item then it’s not an organic item?

Pollan: It’s not organic. It just means it’s made with conventional agricultural without GMOs, which is OK, but you’re not really doing much for the environment.

Singleton: How did you two first meet?

Fritz Haeg: Around six years ago, when I was writing and editing the first edition of the Edible Estates book, I emailed to Michael to inquire if he might let us reprint “Why Mow?” from his book Second Nature. We have corresponded a bit ever since, and last year Alice Waters invited me to come join her presentation to the Edible Education class that Micheal teaches at Berkeley. It’s an amazing, amazing class.

Pollan: Yeah. Fritz came to my class last year and gave an amazing lecture. He and Alice Waters each. It was a powerful class.

Singleton: Dynamic duo right there?

Haeg: After class we went to Chez Panisse. I was with Michael and Alice, and thinking, “OK, this is cool” — pinching myself a bit.

Pollan: It was fun. We’ve had so many great people come through this class and the students of class have become so inspired. They’re all online — Edible Education at Berkeley. Watch his class.

Haeg: Sitting here at Birchwood, Michael, I have one last question: What was your table like growing up?

Pollan: My mom was a really good cook, and she was a stay-at-home mom until I was 14 or 15, then she got a job. She had four kids, and we had family dinner four to five nights a week. But she was kind of a progressive 1960s woman, so she watched Julia Child and learned and she would try. She would make beef bourguignon or coq au vin for us. Just the kids. My dad was never home for dinner because he worked really late.

Haeg: That’s amazing.

Pollan: We were kind of lucky that way, but then we had our basics. There was a rotation. Monday night, it was usually beef. Tuesday, it was pasta. Wednesday, it would be exotic, like stir fry or pepper steak with canned pineapples. She had her rotation, and I loved her food. It was really good. Then we would get to have TV dinners on the weekend when they went out. They would go out on Saturday night.

At Home in the City Weekly Update: August 2

Pardon our silence. It hasn’t been for lack of action but rather due to far too many tasks to be accomplished out in the real world away from the computer. Foraging Circle: The July heat kicked everything into high gear and Foraging Circle is beginning to live up to its name. Raspberries have ripened, Calendula […]

Pardon our silence. It hasn’t been for lack of action but rather due to far too many tasks to be accomplished out in the real world away from the computer.

Foraging Circle:

The July heat kicked everything into high gear and Foraging Circle is beginning to live up to its name. Raspberries have ripened, Calendula seeds have been saved, Feverfew continues to bloom, and there is a Sunflower taller than Fritz. As plants fill in and grow up, hunting and gathering has become more of a challenge and, frankly, much more fun!

willingarden

At Home in the City Intern, Will Gobeli, going after the unwanted plants. Photo by Bridget Mendel.

 

Edible Estates:

Although I can personally confirm that the only thing used in the soil at Edible Estates was high quality compost, you might believe otherwise after walking around a bit. Everything is taller, lusher, and, quite possibly, happier in the Woodbury Edible Estate than in any other garden I have seen around town. As the wide variety of veggies we recieved as donations have matured, some fascinating discoveries have been made. Do you know how beautiful Purple Cauliflower is? How about Purple Brussels Sprouts? Have you ever thought of exchanging your chewing gum for a leaf of Lavendar Hyssop? Do you have juicy, ripe Fall Gold Raspberries to pick? You are not the only one drooling on your keyboard right now. Keep your eye out for a feature on KARE 11 and an update in next week’s Star Tribune.

Rest your back against the plush Brussel Sprout seating. Photo by Ashley Duffalo.

Rest your back against the plush Brussel Sprout seating. Photo by Ashley Duffalo.

 

Domestic Integrities:

Our domestic work reach full speed with Fritz’s arrival this past week. We were fully prepared: we gathered over 300 pounds of discarded fabric for the rug-making; we sourced baskets and jars and vessels galore to hold all of the goodies; and we organized a small army of volunteers to join us in Cargill Lounge to help Fritz crochet the Walker Art Center portion of the rug. Our planning and hording did not go to waste. After a week of traipsing around threads of fabric and eating our weight in bread and jam, the rug is complete and ready to be moved into the exhibition gallery. We couldn’t be more pleased with the process and with the product. Come on over, take your shoes off, and take a little stroll; you will never believe how plush this rug feels!

rug_demo

Artist Fritz Haeg gives the first volunteers a training on how to crochet. Photo by Gene Pittman.

 

 

On Silence, Subjectivity, and Psychoacoustics: A Conversation with Composer and Educator Brian Heller

Now that World Listening Day has come and gone, what are we to do with the remaining 364 days? One suggestion is to take up a listening practice, a routine of setting aside a few minutes each day in which hearing can expand into listening. To enhance my practice, and as an endcap to my […]

Now that World Listening Day has come and gone, what are we to do with the remaining 364 days? One suggestion is to take up a listening practice, a routine of setting aside a few minutes each day in which hearing can expand into listening. To enhance my practice, and as an endcap to my “esteemed listener” interview series, I corresponded with composer and sound arts educator Brian Heller.

In planning the Walker’s recent observance of World Listening Day (WLD), I thought at great length about why listening matters and what we can learn from skilled listeners. From your perspective, what is it about listening—and about our relationship to listening—that merits attention?

More and more, I am of the belief that we need to acknowledge listening as a valid activity unto itself. And then we need to put that into practice. Having a day dedicated to listening encourages us to slow down and take time to experience the process of listening. No matter what you’re listening to (a natural environment, an artificial one, an artistic work, etc.), there is simply no shortcut for taking the time to experience it. WLD is a chance to consider closely our sense of hearing and our perception of sound (two different things). WLD also provides an exchange of ideas that helps us get more out of the listening process.

Speaking of the theoretical side of listening, I’ll mention R. Murray Schafer, a pioneer in the area of sound studies whose birthday is honored on WLD. In Schafer’s endeavor to understand our total sonic environment, he developed “ear cleaning” exercises which train the ears to listen more discriminatingly. Are there acoustic phenomena that for you serve as a baseline to hone your sense of hearing?

I had the pleasure of studying with Schafer for a short time and “ear cleaning” became absolutely essential. In everyday life, I try to be aware of my “noise floor,” to use a technical term from audio engineering, and I prefer it to be quite low. For example, my days of having music on while doing everything stopped some time ago. I gradually became more intentional and purposeful about listening and turned off the running soundtrack. We all know people who have the TV continuously running in the background, and I could never do that. There are many reasons why someone might choose to have the TV on, but I think it’s in part a consequence of the elevated noise-floor we’ve collectively acclimated to in modern life.

Yes, I recently heard someone use the term “hyperdrone” referring to background noise, meaning everything from humming refrigerators to roaring traffic. The value of escaping the hyperdrone and lowering our “noise floor” is beautifully articulated by Gordon Hempton, an acoustic ecologist who describes silence as an endangered species.

I definitely try to notice when I’m in a particularly quiet space. It’s not always a place you might expect, so you have to remain open wherever you are. Last winter, my lovely girlfriend and I spent some time in northern California’s Redwood forests. We were hiking amid huge trees and all the other things that live in and around them, appreciating a wonderful variety of noises. But on one particular day, in one particular place, I noticed an amazing silence. I felt like I couldn’t even hear the air! Aside from the few moments I’ve spent in an anechoic chamber, that was easily the deadest silence I’ve experienced. And it was in a place brimming with life.

Do you have a listening regimen that lets you hear with fresh ears?

As an audio engineer, dealing with the problem of a “listening regimen” is tremendous. The collection of habits and practices that address “fresh ears” are among the most important. We know that, for example, when working with recorded music our brains quickly adapt to and accept the sonic qualities of whatever we’re listening to. This means that if we spend about 20 minutes or so really getting into what we’re listening to, we’ll end up thinking it’s the best-sounding thing we’ve ever heard. (I’m talking sonically, not necessarily artistically.) This is just what the brain does. Although there are a few objective measuring tools, it gets very subjective very quickly. One way to stay objective and critical is to employ a set of recordings that are preselected “reality checks” and use these for comparison throughout the process.

One of the things I’ve most enjoyed learning from skilled listeners is how they talk about sound and the vocabulary used to describe sound’s qualities.

The old saying that “talking about music [sound] is like dancing about architecture” seems more and more true to me each day…it’s really tough!

But I’m sure you’ve got a handle on it, as I imagine terminology features prominently in your teaching. One thing I’m curious about: Are there differences between “aural,” “sonic,” and “acoustic”? It seems these words are used interchangeably but I’m sure they denote different things.

You’re correct, although sometimes the context determines meaning. Differentiating the terms (and others that might be used similarly) requires first understanding that there are (at least) 3 different things going on that get us to hear a sound:

  1. The physical fact of the way the air moves in the world (acoustics)

  2. The sensing of that air and its translation to mechanical energy in our ears (aural/sonic)

  3. And then the translation of that motion in our hearing to chemical energy for processing in the brain (psychological or psychoacoustic).

Just like anything else, any time there’s a translation or conversion from one state to another, it gets complicated.

From the standpoint of working with beginning students, I believe they need to re-imagine and then reconnect with sound as its own physical and psychological thing, and not only a carrier for music. This helps build an understanding of the technical vocabulary, which can be quite imposing. Eventually, we can go about connecting that technical language to an aesthetic one. I’ve found a key part of my role in this as a teacher is to show how vocabulary gives us better precision when talking about sound, and how essential that is. From the standpoint of being an audio engineer working with artists, however, subjectivity comes first. Just yesterday I recorded a concert where a very skilled and talented artist was having a problem with her stage monitor and asked for it to sound “more womanly.”  I’ve also been asked, among other things, to make something sound “more chocolate.” It sounds a little strange, but it’s not like there’s an obvious term for what they’re talking about, without having that technical vocabulary. Looking down at the equipment, there’s no “chocolate” knob, so you begin the process of understanding the intention and translating it into something sonic.

The more I continue to learn—especially about psychoacoustics—the more I think humbleness is in order for all of us. If there’s any doubt, question, or opposition, we like to respond definitively with the phrase “I know what I hear.” The truth is that we often don’t. This is innocent enough, because we don’t know that we don’t know. One of the core parts of my job is precisely “to know what I hear.” It’s such a rich area that there are always ways to know *better*, no matter how much you know now.

Language is one tool to describe sound, but there are also notation systems. Have you ever encountered a notation system so unusual or unconventional that it influenced your thoughts about musical performance or composition?

For some reason, I’ve always been attracted to the notational problems of composers. When I was in music school, I spent afternoons in the music library picking out random 20th century music scores that looked like they might be interesting. I wound up getting a great deal out of this, in part because it led me to see that all composers must not only have sounds in mind, but also must solve the grand problem of communicating physical instructions to let those sounds come into existence. When it comes to notation, some rather fearless models are out there which encouraged me to do whatever best gets the message across and to be open to whatever that solution looks like.

I also considered how composers use notation to get across (what I would call) different layers of meanings in their work. For example, I saw that in George Crumb, although sometimes the actual staff notation was not terribly unconventional, his layouts conveyed conceptual and symbolic aspects that might otherwise go unnoticed. I also saw smaller things Crumb did that improve clarity when one reads over a score to find relationships tying together disparate parts. In contrast to Crumb’s detailed work necessitating precise notation and complex techniques, you have Herbert Brun and John Cage using graphic devices that intentionally circumvent the ‘need’ for composer-determined precision. Some of the resulting notation systems look nothing like a conventional musical score, but get at the essence of what a score is: a practical tool to get the intended sound into the air.

World Listening Day 2013 at the Walker Art Center

World Listening Day 2013 at the Walker Art Center

Brian Heller is an artist and technician who approaches composition, recording, and education with a unique blend of skills. Since graduating from The Hartt School, he has been working as a freelance composer, recording engineer, and educator in both the public and private sectors. This has included work for Minnesota Public Radio, Antenna Audio Tours, Innova Records, Line 6, Zeitgeist, and numerous independent composers and performers. He has also published reviews and feature stories for Electronic Musician magazine, and held senior staff engineering positions at The Banff Centre, the Tanglewood Music Center, and the Aspen Music Festival and School. His compositional activities have included grants and commissions from several organizations, and performances and broadcasts across the United States, Canada, and the Czech Republic. He currently directs the Sound Arts program at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.

Reverberations of World Listening Day

Last Thursday was World Listening Day (WLD), an occasion to slow down and appreciate the complexity of listening. In the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, listeners withstood the heat and basked in refreshing sounds: fountain water, wind gusts, and conversations brimming with ideas being exchanged. Here are four of my take-aways from the Walker’s WLD2013: Tuning an […]

Last Thursday was World Listening Day (WLD), an occasion to slow down and appreciate the complexity of listening. In the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, listeners withstood the heat and basked in refreshing sounds: fountain water, wind gusts, and conversations brimming with ideas being exchanged. Here are four of my take-aways from the Walker’s WLD2013:

Tuning an instrument can be a metaphysical process.

Photo: Gene Pittman

Artist Philip Blackburn explains his Wind Harps to intern Katherine Lee. Photo: Gene Pittman

In beating sun and gusting winds, artist Philip Blackburn installed his Wind Harps. Throughout the evening, these five vertically oriented instruments provided subtle, eery sounds for the patient and attentive listener. In the process of assembling the instruments and tightening their fishing line harp strings, an intern asked exactly how they were tuned. Blackburn’s response was that it is more a metaphysical process than a strictly musical process. It involves adjusting the harps in response to the specific environment and conditions.

Listening is deeply personal.

ecp2013ftn0718_025

The Sculpture Garden on a summer evening, World Listening Day. Photo: Gene Pittman

As the sun neared the horizon and the heat relented, independent acts of listening were amplified by Soniferous Garden, a free leaflet created by artist Viv Corringham. Months earlier in the planning process, when I asked Corringham if she might prepare written instructions for listening, she replied that the instructions are really quite simple: resolve not to speak and open your ears to listening. From Corrinham’s perspective, what’s interesting about listening is not the “how to” but rather the “what then?” Corringhams’ contribution encouraged reflective listening and contemplation of sound’s role in memory, subjectivity, and experience.

Humans are not the only listeners.

ecp2013ftn0718_014

Participants at “The Ear of the Beholder” activity. Photo: Gene Pittman

What if you could try on another animal’s ears and listen to the world from that animal’s aural perspective? At World Listening Day, participants could do just that at “The Ear of the Beholder,” an activity led by biologists Mark Bee and Norman Lee. Using pop songs as a starting point, this activity led me to re-consider our sonic environment. Our soundscape is not inconsequential or purely incidental. Rather, embedded in the noise are abundant signals, many of which are inaudible or unintelligible to human ears. Imagine the diversity of organisms that, like humans, contribute to and depend on the soundscape for survival.

There are no limits to listening.

Participants at the “Mindful Soundwalk” activity. Photo: Gene Pittman

With gently closed eyes or a soft gaze, listeners opened themselves up to the full experience of receiving sonic information. Mark Nunberg, guiding teacher at the Common Ground Meditation Center, led listeners on a mindful soundwalk through the Sculpture Garden. Nunberg commented that there’s really no end to our capacity to explore and be receptive to our sonic environment. A listening practice is something one can return to again and again, at any point in time and in any setting.

Enjoy the listening.

Next