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UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA SOUNDING AND CHILL JARRING



A lazy Sunday morning in Tucson.

Sky heavy with tattered clouds.

Air thick with cicada drone vibrations.

Snowbirds and students have fled the summer heat for the cooler climes of places they call home.

In other words, perfect conditions for playing the
University of Arizona.

I set out on my Moon Bike, a nearly 25 year old former rental from Nantucket, saddlebag filled to bursting with recording equipment and implements of mass percussion.

For those unfamiliar with the UA campus, the architecture is a mix of modern and institutional retro-authentic with all sorts of acoustically interesting structures and environments.

For this sound expedition I was interested in exploring the sonic properties of outdoor sculptures peppering the campus, some prominently placed, others tucked away.

These mostly metal works house wonderful tones, natural delays and reverbs.

I've played many of them informally, tapping external skins and listening, ear-to-metal, to ascertain playability. For this trip I planned to make a formal go of it, with the intent of eventually building an immersive sound environment.

Before going on I want to make sure it is understood my playing/ recording of these sculptures is done with the utmost respect for both the works and the artists.

All of the sculptures were played gently and lightly with either fingertips or soft mallets.

To my mind, playing the world should never be an act of vandalism.

The prime directive is to take only sounds, leave only footprints.
 
I also find playing and listening to public sculpture creates an intimate connection with the work rarely experienced.

The next time you're out for a walk and pass a public sculpture, perhaps on the University of Arizona campus, give a listen.

You'll likely be amazed at the richness of the acoustic environment inside.

NOW THE SOUND

Over the next five hours or so I made a series of improvisational soundings and ambient recordings which were then layered in a laptop multi-track environment, creating an immersive work titled:
University of Arizona Sounding ~ Transitive Mix (First In A Series). 

The free MP3 recordings posted here are suitable for listening but pale next to the .wav tracks on the cd-r recording released as part of the
SonicAnta D-Construction Series.

Sculptures featured in the final mix include:

Curving Arcades:
 
Athena Tacha's work consists of three independent sections of 16-foot-high split sheets of steel bolted to a submerged concrete base.
 
Placing contact microphones at one end of the sculpture and playing it at the opposite end (roughly 100 or so feet away) creates vibrations that distort and morph wildly.

Mystery Sculpture: 

A stone's throw away at the Stevie Eller Dance Theatre is a polished steel sculpture I believe was created by Dennis L. Jones who has similar works installed on campus.

This work is hollow and without visible seams, giving it a deep bass resonating quality that is immediately noticeable.

The interior of this sculpture nicely captures external sounds (buses, birds, voices) and feeds them back in warm drones. The sculpture is mounted on a hollow metal base which adds to the acoustics.

For this sounding I played the sculpture with my fingertips and a soft mallet (cotton wrapped in fabric).

The slightest touch set off a cascade of natural bass reverberations which I used to improvise with the reflected external sounds. (Warning: Deep subsonic tones can blow out speakers not up to the task. Listen with caution.)

Silvertone Benches:

Located throughout the Alumni Plaza are numerous Silvertone benches in groups of four and five. Acoustically each bench offers unique Gamelan and bell-like tones when struck. In time I discovered the vibrations can set off the support railing and seat lattice/ scaffolding with a natural feedback of sorts. The location also features a steady drone of cicadas which is featured on the recordings.


Border Sculpture:

This work built by
Taller Yonke (Two artists with whom I had collaborated to affix actual instruments to the real border wall in Nogales. Mexico ~ FIRST, SECOND, THIRD, FOURTH) is meant to resemble the border wall in Nogales with giant figures supporting it.

Ironically, the Taller Yonke version seems to be better built than the actual wall, so I took to playing the giant figures with soft mallets, developing a "heart-beat" rhythm on the warm sounding steel.


Student Union Memorial:

This central campus building contains design elements meant to resemble the U.S.S. Arizona which sank in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

In one section of the building a pool fed with water dripping down two anchor chains is housed in a subterranean location with phenomenal acoustics. A straight sound portrait of this ambient location was recorded.

Glyph: 

Created by
Donald Haskin, Glyph is a 15-foot, 2,800-pound stainless steel sculpture designed to resemble an abstract American Indian petroglyph. This sculpture is sonically more dense than it appears. However, there are locations that create tones not unlike a tabla. I played Glyph using finger tips and a rubber wrapped alligator clip.

Front Row Center:

This work by environmental artist Barbara Grygutis is located in the UA Arts Oasis of the Fine Arts Complex.

Also played with finger tips and soft mallets, the bronze chairs seem to dramatically change in tone based on where they are played and how much they are heated by the sun.

 
A FINAL NOTE: CHILL JARRING

After five or so hours of playing, dehydrated and a bit dazed from the insular world of headphones and hidden sounds, I decided to get an iced coffee before riding home.

As some of you know, I have another side project that involves playing/ recording pianos around Tucson.

Killing two stones with one bird, I thought I'd stop in at the
Espresso Art Café, a coffee shop with a public piano for the playing.

Before going on I should note I've long been leery of Espresso Art.

The coffee can't hold a candle to
Café Luce, Epic Café, or Café Passé, and the atmosphere is a mix of faux-bohemian schmaltz surrealism.

But it has a piano, ice and caffine and that is what mattered most.

So I got my iced coffee (bitter and burnt) and asked the barrista if I could
play the piano.

She eyed me cautiously: "You're not going to scare away the customers are you?"

"Probably," I think.

"Of course not," I say.

I make my way over to the piano.

"We'll tell you to stop if you're not any good," she warns sternly.

Sitting before the keys I notice someone has lowered the house music.

Ah. Showtime.

I decide to go with an improvised work drawing from the mixed spirits of
Cecil Taylor, Terry Riley, Thelonious Monk and Borah Bergman.

Moments later the manager, polite with fashionable tattoos, shuts me down.

Too "jarring" for the customers he says.
 
We speak for a bit and I leave glad and proud of my expulsion.

Pedaling through waves of cicada drones and rising heat, following the monsoon clouds just above the horizon, I find myself listening and drifting thinking: It was a good day to sound. A good day to jar