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Sound + Space = Place

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A few years ago, I attended a conference in Chicago and for part of the morning, a group of us walked in pairs through the streets, one with their eyes closed, and the other, well, making sure they didn’t fall over. We were listening to the sound of the city and after each of our turns, we would write notes about what we so intently ‘heard’, the sounds that make up space and in turn, create place. I will never forget the sound of stilettos on a marble floor inside a large atrium. As we move through space, we fill it with musical notes of our own. Our own little community symphony. Next time you’re sitting still or even walking with someone, try it. Close your eyes and listen to the music of place.

Now, if you were lucky enough to see the Laser Harps at this month’s Imagination Fair, then you have probably already experienced the ways in which our movements in space also interact with waves of light to create particular sounds and forms of music. At the North Carolina Museum of Life and Science, they have a soundSpace, where people can “…’play’ the room as if it were a musical instrument” as Scott Lindroth, Associate Professor of Music at Duke University puts it. The more you move in the space, the more the music comes to life as your movements are captured on web cameras positioned around the installation. Such an interactive installation adds new meaning to composing live performances in an unusual amalgamation of dance and music mutually creating each other. For a wonderful video on how children respond to such a space, see below.

As you’ve probably guessed by reading this far, there is an intimate relationship between sound, space and place, not to mention who we get to be through, in, and with them all.

This month, the place in which we live — here in Fort Collins — will reverberate intensely with many different kinds of sounds and understandings of space and place as we welcome a series of artists and scientists to our community. A few blogs back, we posted a video of Wynton Marsalis, jazz artists extraordinaire performing The Ballad of the American Arts at the 22nd Annual Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts & Public Policy and taking the audience on a historical ride of cultural identity as performed through jazz. Jazz, as a musical form, has proven hard to define and even harder to agree upon in terms of its pedigree. Still most jazz critics and scholars agree on some critical characteristics of the music and the artists that produce it, such as the importance of improvisation, its ability to absorb and transform influences, its special relationship with time (the ‘swing’ rhythm),  its fundamentally democratic creative nature in terms of the freedom given to performers to add their own ‘touch’ to a piece of music, and its grounding in collaborative, group interaction. Jazz spans a wide range of styles and continues to evolve in rhizomatic fashion due to these fundamental characteristics and the influences of those who play it as well as the places from which they come. You could say that jazz as a particular sound creates a space that many from diverse places can share.

From July 9-11, The Fort Collins Jazz Experience, hosted by the Downtown Business Association, welcomes the Ramsey Lewis Trio and Al Jarreau to our community. The Ramsey Lewis Trio will kick off the event at the Lincoln Center Performance Hall on Thursday, July 9 from 7:30pm with Al Jarreau following two nights later on Saturday, July 11 at the same location but starting at 8pm. Ramsey Lewis of course, is known as “The Great Performer” — a jazz icon, composer, pianist and radio personality while Al Jarreau is the only vocalist in history to win Grammys in jazz, pop and R&B. I am looking forward to hearing him use his voice as several diverse instruments!

Speaking of diverse instruments, on July 25, Doc Severinsen and El Ritmo de la Vida roll into town to bring us their own unique compositions featuring Doc on trumpet (he’s a virtuoso trumpeter and for a long time was the musical director of Johnny Carson’s big band on the Tonight Show as well as playing in major orchestras throughout the US and Canada), Gil Gutierrez on guitar and Pedro Cartas on violin. For a taste of what is to come in what has been called an ‘electrifying display of their virtuosity and blending of instruments’, click here. Doc and El Ritmo de la Vida will be at the Lincoln Center Performance Hall on Saturday, July 25 at 7:30pm. This trio got together when Doc visited Mexico thinking about retirement. Instead, he says, “…when I heard them play I knew that I would be playing with them for some time to come. Latino music, along with the blues, has always been among my favorites, and Gil and Pedro do it along with a European style that I love and so do our audiences.” The place of Mexico, opened up a new space for a new sound for all!

In between both these magical musical events, we have an equally enlightening discussion of life in space by Dr. Bob Phillips, Former NASA Space Station Chief Scientist at July’s Science Cafe on July 15 from 5:30pm to 7pm at the Stonehouse Grille. As usual, this event is free and will present some of the changes that occur in space flight and how and why we change form, function and behavior to accommodate this strange new environment. Dr. Phillips trained as a veterinarian and holds a PhD in physiology and nutrition. His life story and how he came to be involved with NASA and become an in-flight researcher on the first dedicated Biomedical Research Space Shuttle flight as well as how these experiences have fueled his work with NASA’s Life Science Education and Outreach program should make for a fascinating evening. We look forward to seeing you there, and please feel free to post a comment with any feedback you have from the evening!

Sound + Space = Place. Here’s to a wonderful July in Fort Collins and Northern Colorado!

Kirsten Broadfoot