CAAD hosts soundscape artist

Annea Lockwood will present her latest work on campus in a CAAD-sponsored lecture. Her installation uses sound to explore the Housatonic River and more. Photo courtesy of NewMusicBox

The Greeks built monuments and sculpted figures that displayed the divine order of the universe. Per­sian carpets aim to bring nature in­doors, capturing spiritual paradise for earthly consumption. And Monet de­picted the ephemeral in a new, quick style, enforcing a novel way of looking at both art and nature. In many ways, art and nature have always been inter­twined.

Composer, sound artist and former Professor of Music at Vassar Annea Lockwood carries on this long tradi­tion of eliciting emotion through art. Over her long career, Lockwood has experimented with many instruments, such as the piano, drums, didgeridoo and conch shells. She composed mu­sic to accompany readings of poems written by Guantánamo detainees and gained notoriety for setting out-of-use pianos on fire.

Lockwood has always tried to chal­lenge established notions of what con­stitutes art and music. As Vassar Pro­fessor of Music Richard Wilson puts it, “[Lockwood’s works] stand at the very edge of what would traditionally be called music.”

Lockwood will present “environ­mental sound,” in the form of an in­stallation at the Aula. The event was organized by Creative Arts Across Disciplines (CAAD) as part of its 2015- 2016 theme of “Sound and Silence.”

Lockwood’s installation is intended to complement a course in the Environmental Studies Department, “Animal Metaphors,” taught by Associate Professor of French and Franco­phone Studies Kathleen Hart and Professor of Biology and Cognitive Science on the John Guy Vassar Chair John Long. The course, through readings of literature, biology, psychology and cognitive science, explores why humans often identify themselves in opposition to animals and nature, and how this dichotomy is reflected and challenged in our stories and traditions.

At Vassar, Lockwood will be presenting a “sound map” of the Housatonic River, record­ings taken from 18 sites along the waterway. This piece is the third in a series that includes two sound maps of the Hudson and Danube Rivers.

Visitors experience the sound maps through Lockwood’s carefully curated selection of re­cordings. The installation includes a map of the river and the location of each recording, the time and date of each recording and the time of each recording within the hour and 17 minute run time. “I include all this information because very frequently visitors know the river and have a favorite stretch, but since any one site’s sound changes with weather and season, it’s not easy to identify by ear alone,” she explained.

This precise identification is reminiscent of Impressionist painters, who often painted the same landscapes at different times of day and in different seasons to capture the changing effects of light. In Lockwood’s case, her auditory snap­shots give the listener a sense of the changes in the river’s physicality and its subsequent sounds from site to site and from day to day. “It is an anti-solipsistic mode of composition,” asserted Wilson. Her art gives an animate and indepen­dent voice to nature itself.

Unfortunately, as the “Animal Metaphors” course explores, humanity’s connection with this natural spirit has become increasingly distant. In art, Romanticism reacted to such concerns, por­traying the relationship between man and ani­mate natural forces. .

Lockwood’s river sound-maps fit into the cre­ative and environmentalist spirit surrounding the Northeastern rivers but she also exposes au­diences to the landscape in a very different way. As she explained, “I decided to set up comfort­able situations in which people could become immersed in the sound-fields of rivers, listening for long periods of time largely without visual input other than the maps themselves, so there could be real aural focus.”

As Interdisciplinary Arts Coordinator for CAAD Tom Pacio states, “[Each project pro­vides] additional opportunities for conversa­tion between disciplines.” Not only is this true in the interdisciplinary nature of the “Animal Metaphors” course in which Lockwood is partic­ipating, but her art itself transcends genre. Her sound-mapping process combines cartography, sound engineering and the en plein air use of recorders and underwater hydrophones. Her in­spiration—an old treatment that heals by bring­ing patients to waterfronts—is both medical and emotional. She hopes that this experience combines the corporeal and the spiritual for the viewer.

According to Professor Kathleen Hart, sound can facilitate this relationship between the spir­itual and material. She explained, “Through sound, a story can teach us to listen, to pay closer attention to our environment, from which we’re never truly separate…[it can help us] imagine a conversation in the chortling of a brook…without quite knowing what the ‘words’ are.”

Lockwood’s work engages listeners more closely with their environment, creating person­al and emotional connections to the Housatonic that demonstrate that it lives and breathes just like we do. From this understanding, we can better understand that nature can be destroyed and die just like we do. Ultimately, Lockwood de­scribed, “That’s what I’m looking for in the way I build these installations, encouraging a feeling of immersion which can lead to that of non-separa­tion from the environment—essential ground if we are to act effectively, collaboratively, with an environment in crisis.”

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