There is music in everything. Even in chaos.
“Music is all around us,” said iconic composer John Cage, “if only we had ears.” These words provided inspiration for what is now known as the Digital Music Ensemble (DME), started by Stephen Rush, a professor in the School of Music, Theatre and Dance.
The DME, a class Rush offers, is composed of engineering, art and music students, all of whom collaborate with Rush in the annual “Gypsy Pond Music” sound installation. The pond outside the Earl V. Moore Building that houses the School of Music becomes a canvas for experimentation with lights and sounds through various technologies.
The notion of labyrinths has lent the ensemble the idea that within a grand spectrum, there is an individual working to self-reflect among the chaos. The premise is, admittedly, vague, but each year takes a different approach to the theme. This year focuses on the individual and one’s place in a community. Students attempt to map out this particular relationship in sculptures, lights and music.
One of the central questions focuses on finding beauty within chaos. As students attempted to answer this question, they considered the coexistence of three musical layers. Students collected everyday noise that would resemble chaos and then filled in the spaces with composed music of their own to represent beauty. These sounds play from four large speakers in the trees surrounding the pond.
“I felt that there was a certain music that wasn’t being played, both classical and experimental. It was an artistic need that both the students and I had,” Rush said of the composition. “There’s music around us, but we’re not listening to it, and I think this ensemble allows that to happen.”
The pond isn’t the only component of “Gypsy Pond Music.” A small transparent tent stands beside the pond. When the garage door motion sensor in the corner of the tent is triggered, recordings of philosophical statements by historic people such as Virginia Woolf and Hitler create another aspect.
We are meant to feel isolated – that much is obvious – but the transparency of the tent allows you to still see what exists outside.
“The tent is the resemblance of the distance between the individual and society” Rush said.
Each student’s role in the instillation of this creation is unique. As students discuss the meaning of the installation and the philosophical route it should take, each begins to relate to the theme in different ways.
“For me, it was a community thing because of all the cooperation involved – the individual experience is something I get more from once it is completed and I can reflect on it,” said David Biedenbender, a first year grad student in the School of Music, Theatre and Dance. Biedenbender oversaw keeping continuity between parts of the project on water and land and assisted in the design of the lily-pad scene on the pond.
In the evening, the pond’s lily pads go off at different rates and patterns in glowing colors. The idea, again, is that beauty and order emerge out of the chaos. Although advanced technology was used inside the lily pad with tiny computer chips, they were hand-made out of floating swimming pool noodles covered in white sheets.
“Ideas are limitless in this theme,” Rush said. “The human experience is critical to the outcome of the project, and you need to ask yourself what the appropriate technology is for it. Sometimes all you just need is a hammer or a rubber band.”
The installation will continue to run in the afternoon and evening through tomorrow.