MUSIC FROM THE CENTER OF THE EARTH
MUSIC FROM THE CENTER OF THE EARTH is a project begun by me in 1987 involving the placement of loudspeakers under the surface of the earth and the diffusion of specially composed musics from them. To date I have created three major works based on this idea - and one of them has been fully realized and a second is under consideration. While conceptually related, each of these installations posesses a distinct identity through its sonic (musical) content, loudspeaker placement and visual design. As in other of my site-specific works (MARITIME RITES, WATERWORKS, MONUMENTI, APRES LE DEJEUNER SUR L'HERBE) the MUSIC FROM THE CENTER OF THE EARTH series is a further exploration of open-air acoustics in direct relation to the immediate environment - be its site a river, castle, port, city, lake, the facade of a baroque opera house, an open field or deep well. In this article I will describe these three works, which evolve directly from many of my earlier "concerts in nature" but differ from them in their use of specially placed loudspeaker systems, computer-based compositional techniques and, in one case, the use of the public itself as musical protagonist.
"Is it ING or DURING, Torah or Fakebook? Cecil Taylor, Cole Porter and Morty Feldman have a conference call- they decide to order a Golem. Fellini thought it was a great idea but said he'd be late; he never showed. Meanwhile Gabriella Münter painted Kandinsky in bed from the next room in Munich. This music was written 35 Kilometers southeast of Rome."1
I have been making music with natural sounds since l964 and avidly continue to record sounds of all kinds from around the world. For my creative life, this raw auditory poetry has become my mother-tongue and direct inspiration for many works. At first, ignorant of the work of Russolo, Schaeffer and Cage, I began to collect environmental sounds because to me, they were, de facto, MUSIC; moreover, music that belonged to everyone. The seeking out and collecting of these natural musics was also, for me, a way to let some raw oxygen into the often airless confines of the new-music workplace. Right from the start, water, wind, frogs, cicadas, bees, love-making, children at play, junk objects and above all raucous Italy provided me with a symphonic-sized lexicon - so vast seemed its potential. From my first cinematic-like tape collages (WATERCOLOR MUSIC and A DAY IN THE COUNTRY, 1966/67) I progressed to the well-known solo performance pieces (SONGS AND VIEWS OF THE MAGNETIC GARDEN and LIGHT FLOWERS,DARK FLOWERS 1973/74) where I employed my voice, flugelhorn, ocarina, Jews Harp, found objects and synthesizer over tape-mixes of slowly evolving scenarios. With the MARITIME RITES series, begun in 1978 with 50 singers in row boats on a small lake in Rome2, I moved my concert music from the dark avantguard cellars, right outdoors. Several large scale concerts of ship's horns in major European ports followed; then a National Public Radio series (1984-85) based on all the fog horns on the eastern U.S. seaboard with instrumental soloists3; and finally the WATERWORKS employing 22 computer controlled ship's horns along one mile on both banks of the Danube River in Linz (Ars Electronica Festival, 1987). More and more drawn to the suggestive power of large open spaces I employed the medium of the Radio to synchronously and simultaneously unite some 300 musicians in six European cities in a 53 minute symphonic incantation commemorating Kristallnacht (CRYSTAL PSALMS, l988). This brief overview leads directly to the three works at hand - the recent series: MUSIC FROM THE CENTER OF THE EARTH.
I NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND
"...the Shofar blew and the Pharaohs looked on in astonishment as the Bridge (the Brooklyn) appeared out of nowhere in resonant aether ... and fragments of myriad underground choruses could not stem the musical destiny and army of dysfuctional chords which marched like Panurge's sheep ... each to their maker, each kicking turf into the faces of those behind it..."4
The first of these is FLOOR PLAN/NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND - a conceptual Holocaust memorial installation in light and sound created in collaboration with artist Melissa Gould, commissioned by the Ars Electronica Festival 1991. Gould used the floor plan of a destroyed Berlin synagogue as the basis for a life size (18x25m) "walk-in" blueprint drawing5 composed of 110 flourescent lights set slightly below ground level-whose glow eerily called this "lost-space" back into existence.
To complement this striking visual gesture of Gould's, I proposed the addition of imaginary walls to Gould's surreal architecture - walls of pure sound: the sound of hundreds, thousands, finally millions of human voices singing out from under ground - massive but invisible sonic walls, rising up from hidden loudspeakers virtually buried in the ground.
THE MUSIC for this work was created in the Center for Contemporary Music studios of Mills College, in spring 1991. Using an ad hoc student chorus I recorded a series of essential basic musical structures: sustained random chords, dense melodic singing, long sustained unisons, glissandi etc.- to this I added a wide selection of unaccompanied choral music from around the world, and with some industrial noises and animal voices filled a 24 track tape with continued rerecordings of all of these. From this mass of "prima materia" I made 8 stereo premixes and distilled these into four, hour-long, final mixes; one for each wall of the synagogue. With all four tapes playing together as intended, some one million voices would be heard singing at any one time from the periphery of Gould's other-worldly light design.
THE PHYSICAL STRUCTURE was to be installed in Linz for one week only; but however simple it was in concept, it proved not to be an easy one to realize. Why would anyone want to create an evenly distributed 100m long wall of sound emanating from under a grassy field through no visible openings, anyway? After much consideration, the following structure was adopted a trench, 1x1x1m would be dug, bordering the rectangular FLOOR PLAN at a distance of 1.5m. In it a "V" shaped construction of 6 cm plywood boards would be placed. On pairs of connecting horizontal struts 1.5 m apart, 12 inch coaxial loudspeakers would be placed, face up. A covering of plywood panels drilled with many 8cm holes and fine plastic netting stapled to their undersides, would be laid on upper cross-struts installed slightly higher than the top of the "V" panels - leaving a small space for the sound to escape. The rolled up grass turf was then replaced over the boards in its original positions. Short sections of PVC tubing were inserted at random in small holes in the turf to further allow the sound to emerge. The 72 loudspeakers in groups of 8 were attached to 9 stereo amplifiers ca. 600 Watts each in series and parallel,6 to a mixer with four outputs and finally to 4 stereo auto-reverse cassette decks. After much fine tuning the system functioned without problems from sundown to midnight for the duration of the Festival, providing not only an even perimeter of sound, but a singularly consonant presence within Gould's field of light.
1. From my CD liner notes for SCHTYX, CRI recordings 1994
2. A concert of the student vocal improvisation workshop at the Accademia Nazionale d'Arte Drammatica, Rome June 1978
3. In this 10 part series, produced by Melissa Gould, the instrumental and vocal soloists (one per program) were: Pauline Oliveros, John Cage, Leo Smith, Jon Gibson, Joe Celli, Malcolm Goldstein, Clark Coolidge, George Lewis, Steve Lacy and myself.
4. From my CD liner notes for WHY IS THIS NIGHT DIFFERENT FROM ALL OTHER NIGHTS, ARCANA Recordings 1994
5. The public entered at the "door" and walked around at will as if visiting any architectural monument.
6. Designed by Tom Erbe, Center for Contemporary Music, Mills College, Oakland