Thoughts on my site-specific project

To be quite brief, I hope to be able to construct one (or more) aeolian harps and place them in a windy public area as my site-specific project. Given my focus, I thought about this concept of public engagement and how it was interpreted in the eyes of the authors and the artists they cited.

A common factor is the removal of traditional barriers between the audience and the sound source. According to Andueza, “[Max Neuhaus] moved to public spaces to avoid the distance between music and listeners.” Indeed, LaBelle goes on to say that Neuhaus perceived an “‘inadequacy’ in the traditions of musical presentation.” Neuhaus himself was quite keen on the idea of the experience being on the terms of the listener. (“Disguising them within their environments in such a way that people discovered them for themselves and took possession of them, lead by their curiosity into listening.” -LaBelle) I like this idea of opening a performance to the “public at large” as I find that it appeals to an older Western musical tradition where music was more fundamentally integrated into public life than it was after the 19th century’s canonization of the masters of the craft. The pomp and pageantry of the musical world of today, both in the strictly classical and the strictly popular realms, is very much rooted in an antiquated notion of demagoguery and idolization of performers and composers/songwriters. I hope that my work, though fairly simple in execution, is similar in
its goal of public outreach. Unlike Neuhaus, I do not seek to hide the sound sources (though I admit that doing so is more effective in cementing this notion of discovery on one’s own terms) because I also want people to appreciate the work from a non-musical perspective as well.

After reading about the Gallerian commission, I thought on one of the key points that was raised: “To add or open up for a certain heterogeneity in the sound design in order to enhance the sense of urban quality – an overly homogenous sonic space may render the character of a ‘hotel lobby’.” My sound sources will all be fairly similar in that they involve vibrating strings in the wind. While I could vary the material of the strings or the instrument, it will all have a fairly similar quality (if sound samples taken from the internet are any indication). If I were to process the audio taken from these aerophones, or include other types of interplay with the wind (chimes or tuned pipes, for example), then I think I could achieve a greater heterogeneity of sound. However, though I concede that I agree with the points brought up as a result of the Gallerian installation, I also really love the visual aspects of my chosen Aeolian harp and I am rather partial to the sonic qualities it has (or perceived to have as I have not fully finalized my first harp yet).

Why have you chosen this site?

I chose my site (the walkway toward the Schenley Drive bridge behind CMU) for several reasons. The most direct reason is that I walk there all the time and I like the space. I like that it is very blustery and provides a good wind source. It also has many industrial qualities that I like as well: the ironwork of the bridge, the rail in the valley below, the smokestack across from the walk up to the bridge, and the construction along the tracks on the Western end of the campus. I hope to reflect this industrialism in my harp design. I also like that it is a very large, open space that is not overly-trafficked (I am not sure if that word works there, but I couldn’t think of another at this moment) but busy enough to have people around it at most hours of the day.

How will the content of your work engage the location you have chosen?

This is a question that I don’t really feel I address well at the moment. While the instrument itself does interact with the space in that it reacts to the wind blowing around the area, it is not interacting any further with the space. The sound produced does not really reflect the qualities of the space either. While I like the sounds, and the method whereby they are produced, they also only react to one element of the space. Again, while I like this element, I cannot help but feel like there is a way to strengthen the project that addresses these concerns. Perhaps I can come up with some more ways to diversify the elements of sound production (like using some other, more percussive elements, like hanging metal pipes hitting each other vis-a-vis wind chimes) that help to further link the elements of the instrument to the site.

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