Sonification of Landscape

Today we started in on a collaboration with visual artist and musician Burke Jam wherein we read his panoramic photos as if they were sheet music.

Each instrumentalist is assigned either the bass, tenor, alto, or soprano voicing and as the photo pans by, we respond to visual cues from the landscape. It’s not “scoring”– we’re not responding to or emphasizing emotion– rather, we’re reading the various colors, horizons, clouds, and shadows in the photograph as signifiers on the musical staff, then playing what we see. That said, it’s almost impossible for the conversation between sight and sound to not create some sort of emotional space. This work is of Montana. Burke’s photos are stunning, and the intense listening required of our group seems to beget an alchemy that goes beyond just “reading” the landscape.

It looks like there will be 3 or 4 movements, each a panoramic image taken here in Montana– some on the Rocky Mountain Front, some in the Beartooth Range. Our instrumentation will change with each movement: so far we have upright bass, cello, musical saw, banjo, pedal steel, Bloogle resonator, oscillators.

We will perform this sonification one time only as part of Burke’s larger “Shadow of Polaris” project on March 1 in the Recital Hall at University of Montana School of Music. It’ll be free and open to the public. Hope to see you there!

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