Thursday, December 3, 2009

Moorhead State University Residency

On December 1 and 2 I drove on over to MSU-Moorhead with a load of conch shells, organ pipes, plants, and sculptural materials to work with Dr. Henry Gwiazda's (and other) students. A great time was had with fun, curious and friendly students that more than made up for the Spartan dorm room and chilly drab weather. The weather failed to provide the expected wind velocity to power the five windharps and four flutes until the last night, when brave Mike stayed up in 10º to experience the intended whistling.

I talked about the secret life of non-profits, with particular reference to ACF and innova. Then was part of a composition masterclass where I got to play the entire Habanera. Next day was presenting my own work (to a room full of 3D glasses wearers) and a show-and-tell about Harry Partch. In the evening we gave a presentation of all Blackburn with good-hearted volunteers who blew, screamed and stomped well. We would have honked too (in the world premiere of my Car Horn Symphony at the old abandoned Walmart parking lot on Highway 10, but the roads were dangerously slippery so we did an indoor version with shells instead).

Fox Recital Hall

Call of the Sea for conch shells
Consciousness of Poets (solo)
Democracy Organ
Gospel Jihad for chorus on bloody violent Christian texts SCORE
Car Horn Symphony (chamber version transcribed for shell trumpets)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


July 2009 I was artist in residence for the UBEATS summer camp near Greensboro, NC testing new biomusic curriculum for grades 2-5. Twice a day for a week we made instruments and prepared a site-specific performance in the woods with 60+ people.

We had a mile long pathway that the audience was shepherded around, led by me playing the flute. After passing through the magic bubble machine bubbles, the first station was an old shack where the adult participants were to be found singing a Slow Song. Then we moved to an open platform area with a Rapunzel Tower nearby; the kids did a circle ritual dance with hoops, paintstick bullroarers, and rattles while 3 drummer girls played from the tower. We took advantage of a triple echo from the distant buildings by playing some rhythmic percussion. Then we walked across the Troll Bridge which was being played from all angles (including beneath). Then we entered the Enchanted Forest where everyone gathered to make jungle bird calls.

These were not bird imitations but human street cries (The Cryes of Greensboro), touts and jingles composed by the participants, that were sung and vocalized throughout the space. Some examples:
"Treehouses. Treehouses. Treehouses. Foreclosures. Foreclosures. Foreclosures. Cheap. Cheap. Cheap."
"Bird Bingo Tonight"
People also played straw oboes, panpipes, squawkers, and that amazing invention, the acorn whistle. The effect was marvelous and one called it the most effective recreation of a rainforest he had ever heard.

Emerging from the forest we encounter the ball field where two giant instruments were waiting to be played by everyone: the baseball dugout koto, and the machine shed long string instrument. The former was played with wooden shim plectra plucking the welding-wire strings (it sounded great inside the shelter), and the latter was made of tasut fishing line with rosin. The wind would have sounded it had there been any, but we dragged cups and resonators along to make sustained tones. The best resonators are no longer Dixie cups as I have found, but rather Percy's 9 Lives catfood cans.

Here's an audio recording of our walk on the WILDSIDE. Thanks to all the many collaborators who came together in grand style (especially Patricia Gray).

Beyond Neverland residency

June 2009 I led a group of 2nd graders attending summer camp at St. Paul's SteppingStone Theater in the art of instrument building. The camp theme was loosely based on Peter Pan and Neverland so I watched most of the Disney version on Youtube as preparation.

We made sea urchin shaped pan pipes, cat food can steel pans, fishing line guitars with styrofoam resonators, straw oboes, drainpipe trumpets, and string telephones.

We also recorded vocalizations and sounds of the instruments that I brought together into a bizarrely hallucinogenic composition: NEVERLAND

Friday, June 5, 2009

Philip Blackburn and his Talking Plant

Here's the video of some of the reactions and interactions with my plant. You can't even be vegan any more without eating a sentient being.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Bird Dance at the Singing Garden

View in Hi Def for better results (those millett rattles sound terrible when compressed). Also here is a 3D interactive model of the event using 625 photos by Preston Wright.

People/Plant Dialogues

One of the surprise hits of the festival was the Talking Plant. It was amazing to see the pyschic shock and awe when people (of all ages) realized their behavior could affect a plant's internal life. I told them that plants have evolved successfully because they are responsive to their environment: light, water, heat, vibration. That activity can be measured in the small amounts of electricity it generates, picked up by the EEG sensor, mangled by the MaxMSP patch and made audible by triggering some of the 2000+ samples.

Some people danced, asked it questions (Are you a girl or a boy? What's your name? What's your favorite color? What's your favorite drink?), tickled, fondled, caressed, struck, blew, watered and communed with it.

It was interesting to me to see that normal people can accept the weirdest blips and vegetable booping noises if it is related to their actions and context, whereas sitting in a concert hall the same sounds would be eagerly rejected.

A video of these moments will be edited one day. In the meantime here are some stills.

What a week it was!

Here is the complete timelapse video of the Rise and Fall of the Singing Garden. More to follow;

Friday, May 29, 2009

We are in business

The flowers and sounds are in place, lovely dancing from Jan Louise's team, and young and old are enjoying the plant orchestra. Here's the video of the setting up process. The tear-down will follow all too soon.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

In the midst of setting up

It shouldn't be 50º and raining today but it is and the flowers don't mind, only the hordes of volunteers putting this all together. So far so good: Plants looks great, speakers in place and beginning to look like toadstools. They sound fine but much more subtle than indoors away from bus engine noises. Tomorrow is perfecting the spinnies and firing up the talking plant.

Lovely story in the Pioneer Press above and below the fold.

Here's the invite to my friends:

Stroll through the Singing Garden and converse with a Talking Plant

Please visit Philip Blackburn’s sound installation this weekend. You will hear a 20-channel soundscape created from dozens of vegetable sounds (from coconut milk to Rice Krispies to acorn squash clarinets); a kind of vegan frogpond at dusk. Don’t miss the spinning flower beds that strike bamboo chimes in a spatial phasing pattern (a safe alternative to LSD). You will notice this all takes place in a colorful 50-foot diameter flower carpet pieced together by the St. Paul Parks Department. Pretty.

Then there’s the Talking Plant. This is a Bird of Paradise plant that has been wired up with a brainwave sensor that spits out MIDI signals from its stalk. J. Anthony Allen wrote the MaxMSP patch to convert those data to trigger yet more vegetable samples (from cactus needles to rubber bands). Amaze your friends by playing the plant like an organic Theremin; it’s an intelligent salad.

This is all part of the Flint Hills International Childrens Festival at the Ordway and throughout Rice Park so bring the family and you’ll find plenty of other stuff to do. All free.

More on the Singing Garden and the Talking Plant:

Friday, May 29-Sunday, May 31
9 am — 4pm

Landmark Plaza, next to Landmark Center (where the skating rink usually is), Rice Park, downtown St. Paul (take the 5th Street or Kellogg exit from 94)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Talking Plant Talks

Ever wondered what plants think when you play with them? Some say that saying nice things will help them grow and that playing heavy metal causes them to wilt. They did evolve pretty well to find light and nutrients and whatever life force is going up and down their stalks might contain their deepest wisdom...

Anyway, here's what this Bird of Paradise had to say when I conversed with it this evening. I bet the kids have fun with this next week: it's quite sciencey and amusing in a metaphysical sort of way.

Last day of class, listening to the Singing Garden

As the culmination of all our listening, recording and composing efforts we finally got to hear the full 20-channel version of the Singing Garden. We closed our eyes, listened closely (quietly even), and wrote stream-of-consciousness notes about our experiences. Here are some of the reactions. Notice how few refer to vegetables, the main sound source; their sounds seem to evoke more weather and animal images. Maybe because plant and vegetable sounds are so alien to us, even though we are around them every day.

It makes me feel like I’m in a cave. It’s dark with a lot of noise around me. But the sound I hear don’t seem like it’s in the right place. It goes from fast to slow, loud to quiet sounds. It’s hard to hear everything around me. Sometime it sounds like the sounds are responding back to each other. Now I hear some strings getting strummed. I hear some kind of bird screaming. Some of the sounds are moving around; you hear them from somewhere and then it comes out from somewhere else. I now hear a fan or something and it seems like it’s getting closer to me somehow. Now hear frogs croaking and the fan coming and going.

It’s a hot summer day. I’m sitting by a pond. In the distance I hear something rattling in a bush. I hear a frog croaking and a dragonfly beating its wings. Fish making air bubbles in the water. It’s peaceful and there’s a sweet scent on the breeze. I look over and there is a lilac bush.

Hearing things never heard
And how to do things with materials
Like f you are in spaceship
A car with a bad motor
A bubbling spa
Boiling pot
A lighter
A balloon getting flat by letting air go from your mouth
Speakers hot plug in light
A harmony of flute
Drum sticks Macarena
It makes me feel like I am in an airplane
Making me feel I am at the rainforest or a woodpecker and above four frogs in the middle of nowhere.

In the forest where native people live they are playing some type of instrument; there’s ghosts too sounding scary. Feels like I am in the bathroom taking a bath while water slowly drips down. At school in a quiet room with tape being taken off. Altogether like a dream taking me to different places. Took me to a Japanese palace or Chinese where there are people playing instruments.
In a quiet house with rain falling, then a ghost came and made scary crying noises. Ghost came back, more crying noises.
Somebody crumbling vegetables loudly.
In a house (in my bedroom) sprinklers turn on. Somebody playing an instrument. My mom washing clothes repeatedly. Dad cleaning up some stuff and making noises. Sister practicing an instrument. Somebody scraping something together.
A twirl like a spiral taking me to somewhere else, really windy, fan making it windy going faster and faster.
Got to a different land with all these different insects.

I heard a lot of noises through all of the speakers but the one that I like is the water that’s shaking and sounds real. Also all of the sounds are going at the same time. Sometimes it will go loud then it will go small and I hear some strong squeaky noises through the speakers.

The sound started to be quiet and then it have a drizzle sound. And you can hear some instrument and animal sounds

Sounds of images
Sounds like you’re in a cave
Makes me feel like I’m alone in a cave
Forest sounds
There’s a lot of wind and it gets louder and louder
Sounds like an animal is burying something
A lot of water in the area
There are electric sounds with music in the background
And there is rain outside in the background
I can hear animals in the forest
Sounds like branches are getting stepped on
And more animals
Someone plays music a little
And it sounds like people are gardening
More flutes playing
The wind picks up again and there is a loud shaking sound.
Just the wind picking up.
Frogs croaking
I hear rattle snakes

This reminds me of my basement, water leaking. And the fan part reminds me of my room because my fan is always going… LOL. The shakers remind me of rattle snakes. It reminds me of pouring juice in my cup. It reminds me of a birthday party because of the balloons.

It sounds like being in a quiet water place like a sea, lake, ocean, something like that and it just stop running and there is still like drops like and you can hear little sea creatures.

Somebody in the tub
Somebody play with a fan

1) nothing
2) horny
3) gay
4) dumb
5) happy
6) high
7) bitchy
8) sad
9) Mexican
10) Hmong
11) Black
12) White
13) More gay
14) Less gay
15) Same gay
16) Normal
17) Annoyed
18) Sleepy
19) Awake
20) Hating
21) Loving
22) Empty
23) Fun
24) Boring
25) Talkative
26) Quiet
27) Helpful
28) Pollution
29) Man
30) Woman
31) Normal
32) Partying
33) Peeing
34) Smoking
35) I can’t believe
36) that it not butter
37) Omg
38) Watching tv
39) Go to China
40) Pass Math
41) fell
42) writing number 42
43) lol
44) cellphone
45) driving
46) need help
47) 47
48) ssr
49) unhappy
50) unsad
51) gang bang
52) lonely
53) cheating
54) play
55) boring
56) kicking
57) got milk
58) pokemon
59) go home
60) names
61) don’t know
62) bold
63) fishing
64) sleeping
65) I am your father
66) Who your mother
67) Curds
68) Eminem
69) Tomcuris
70) Ky
71) Blackjack
72) Great