Nowhere Landscape, for Clarinets, Trombones, Percussion, Violins, and Electronics and “The Map and the Territory: Documenting David Dunn’s Sky Drift”
1. nowhere landscape, for clarinets, trombones, percussion, violins, and electronics
nowhere landscape is an eighty-minute work for nine performers, composed of acoustic and electronic sounds. Its fifteen movements invoke a variety of listening strategies, using slow change, stasis, layering, coincidence, and silence to draw attention to the sonic effects of the environment—inside the concert hall as well as the world outside of it. The work incorporates a unique stage set-up: the audience sits in close proximity to the instruments, facing in one of four different directions, while the musicians play from a number of constantly-shifting locations, including in front of, next to, and behind the audience.
Much of nowhere landscape’s material is derived from a collection of field recordings
made by the composer during a road trip from Springfield, MA to Douglas, WY along US- 20, a cross-country route made effectively obsolete by the completion of I-90 in the mid- 20th century. In an homage to artist Ed Ruscha’s 1963 book Twentysix Gasoline Stations, the composer made twenty-six recordings at gas stations along US-20. Many of the movements of nowhere landscape examine the musical potential of these captured soundscapes: familiar and anonymous, yet filled with poignancy and poetic possibility.
2. “The Map and the Territory: Documenting David Dunn’s Sky Drift”
In 1977, David Dunn recruited twenty-six musicians to play his work Sky Drift in the
Anza-Borrego Desert in Southern California. This outdoor performance was documented with photos and recorded with four stationary microphones to tape. A year later, Dunn presented the work in New York City as a “performance/documentation,” playing back the audio recording and projecting slides. In this paper I examine the consequences of this kind of act: what does it mean for a recording of an outdoor work to be shared at an indoor concert event? Can such a complex and interactive experience be successfully flattened into some kind of re-playable documentation? What can a recording capture and what must it exclude?
This paper engages with these questions as they relate to David Dunn’s Sky Drift and to similar works by Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Luther Adams. These case-studies demonstrate different solutions to the difficulty of documenting outdoor performances. Because this music is often heard from a variety of equally-valid perspectives—and because any single microphone only captures sound from one of these perspectives—the physical set-up of these kind of pieces complicate what it means to even “hear the music” at all. To this end, I discuss issues around the “work itself” and “aura” as well as “transparency” and “liveness” in recorded sound, bringing in thoughts and ideas from Walter Benjamin, Howard Becker, Joshua Glasgow, and others. In addition, the artist Robert Irwin and the composer Barry Truax have written about the conceptual distinctions between “the work” and “not- the-work”; these distinctions are complicated by documentation and recording. Without the context, the being-there, the music is stripped of much of its ability to communicate meaning.
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