Listening to Tell the Tale (With Wilderness Comes Wonder)

Shipwreck at Pictured Rocks

Shipwreck at Pictured Rocks. Photo: Steve Brimm Photography.

Editor’s Note: Composer Libby Meyer, a member of the Landscape Music Composers Network, writes her first essay for Landscape Music about her NEA-funded project “Listening to Parks.”

Apostle Islands Rain in a Pressure Cooker. Recording by Libby Meyer.

I found myself in a tent during a thunderstorm on Ironwood Island in the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore on a Thursday evening in August eating rice and beans with my husband and recording the sound of rain falling into my pressure cooker with a hydrophone. That evening, we would later find out, a young man had drowned in 8-foot waves off of Stockton Island about ten miles east of our campsite. We had listened to the rescue attempt on our marine radio: helicopters in the background and reports of sightings. We learned from a ranger, who had come to clean the outhouse on Otter Island where we camped the next day, that his body had been found. While we were listening to rain and enjoying our dinner, safe and warm in our tent, someone was losing his life. Vulnerability is relative.

* * *

“We have work to do.”

Four months earlier, a late night text from my colleague and sound designer, Chris Plummer, announced that we—along with designer Kent Cyr—were awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts as part of the National Park Service Program Imagine Your Parks. My initial reaction was one of elation. This was quickly followed by something closer to panic: “Now we really have to do this.”

For our project, entitled “Listening to Parks,” we are recording soundscapes at Isle Royale National Park, The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and the Keweenaw National Historical Park (KNHP). I will be composing a piece based on these recordings and my impressions of the Parks to be premiered by the Keweenaw Symphony Orchestra in December 2017. Our team will design a multi-media sound installation utilizing collected images, music, video, and audio recordings, which will tour to locations in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. We will work with with K-12 students and teachers in our region, utilizing our project to promote enjoyment, stewardship, and lifelong learning through the National Parks. In addition to our funding from the NEA, we were subsequently awarded funding from the National Parks of Lake Superior Foundation to include another two national parks on Lake Superior: Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore and Grand Portage National Monument. Continue reading

Live Videos of Cadillac Moon Ensemble at the Parrish Art Museum

Here are some live videos from the Landscape Music Composers Network’s concert on September 9, 2016, performed by Cadillac Moon Ensemble at the Parrish Art Museum. The program, which celebrated the 2016 National Park Service centennial, featured two World Premieres of works written for Cadillac Moon Ensemble—Refuge by Nell Shaw Cohen and Of Wolves and Rivers by Justin Ralls—and works for solo instruments by Stephen Lias, Justin Ralls, Alex Shapiro, and Stephen Wood.

Learn more about Refuge by Nell Shaw Cohen.

Learn more about Of Wolves and Rivers by Justin Ralls.

A Conversation with Landscape Music Composers

Nell Shaw Cohen, composer and Director of the Landscape Music Composers Network, was joined earlier this month by fellow Landscape Music composers Justin Ralls, Stephen Wood, and Stephen Lias for a fascinating, wide-ranging conversation about bringing inspirations from nature into music. It was filmed on the occasion of Landscape Music’s National Park Service centennial concert with Cadillac Moon Ensemble at the Parrish Art Museum, and includes a discussion of the works on that program with clips from the performance.

What’s New? Summer 2016

Cadillac Moon Ensemble performs the World Premiere of "Refuge" by Nell Shaw Cohen, with video projection of the Kemp's ridley sea turtle.

Cadillac Moon Ensemble performs Refuge by Nell Shaw Cohen, with video projection of the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, at the Parrish Art Museum.

With the Fall Equinox fast approaching, it’s the perfect time to get caught up on everything that’s been happening here at Landscape Music over the summer: a collaborative concert production, new Composers Network members, and new articles!


Cadillac Moon Ensemble at the Parrish Art Museum

Last Friday, September 9, our concert with Cadillac Moon Ensemble at the Parrish Art Museum on the East End of Long Island received a great audience turnout and response. The program, which celebrated the 2016 National Park Service centennial, featured two World Premieres of works written for Cadillac Moon Ensemble and four works for solo instruments. All of the music was composed by members of Landscape Music Composers Network—Nell Shaw Cohen, Stephen Lias, Justin Ralls, Alex Shapiro, and Stephen Wood—four of whom were in attendance.

Stay tuned for videos from this special event, including a conversation with the composers and clips from the concert itself.

A group discussion with the composers at the Parrish Art Museum. Left to right: Stephen Lias, Stephen Wood, Justin Ralls, and Nell Shaw Cohen.

A conversation with the composers at the Parrish Art Museum. Left to right: Stephen Lias, Stephen Wood, Justin Ralls, and Nell Shaw Cohen.


Libby Meyer and Oliver Caplan Join Composers Network

Two exciting composers have joined the Landscape Music Composers Network!

Libby MeyerLibby Meyer‘s music is fueled by her interest in natural soundscapes, conservation of special places, and curiosity about the relationship between the arts and the natural world. A composer, fiddler, co-founder of the Keweenaw Soundscape Project, and former Artist in Residence at Isle Royale National Park, Libby hails from Houghton, MI.

Oliver Caplan
Boston-area composer Oliver Caplan creates music in which the geographies of people, places and ideas intertwine to become tales of transformation. Oliver’s inspirations have included Jane Goodall, Frederick Law Olmsted, and the landscapes of New England.


Recent Articles on Landscape Music

Stories of Wildlife Conservation in “Refuge” by Nell Shaw Cohen — What do the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, Mission blue butterfly, and American bison have in common? The National Park Service! Nell explores how each of these species’ conservation stories connect to the NPS in Refuge, her piece for Cadillac Moon Ensemble.

Exploring “Of Wolves and Rivers” by Justin Ralls – The wolves of Yellowstone National Park are a powerful symbol of wilderness and demonstrate how one species can alter an entire ecosystem. Through his piece for Cadillac Moon Ensemble, Of Wolves and Rivers, Justin references and sanctifies the relationships between wolves and rivers and between humans and their environment.

Exploring “Of Wolves and Rivers” by Justin Ralls

Yellowstone River, Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone River, Hayden Valley, Yellowstone National Park. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Editor’s Note: “Of Wolves and Rivers” by Justin Ralls receives its World Premiere on our upcoming Landscape Music Composers Network concert. In this essay, Justin explores the inspiration behind his piece.

I am honored to be a part of Landscape Music’s upcoming concert with Cadillac Moon Ensemble at the Parrish Art Museum in The Hamptons, NY on September 9, 2016, celebrating the centennial of the National Park Service and our common natural heritage. In creating a piece for this very special concert, I looked to Yellowstone for inspiration. Not only was Yellowstone the nation’s first national park, dedicated in 1872, but the greater Yellowstone ecosystem is a living portrait of wilderness: filled with free rivers, rugged mountains, thick forests and wildlife. Yellowstone exemplifies what much of North America, both east and west, was once like only generations ago. Nell Shaw Cohen’s Refuge also draws inspiration from Yellowstone, with a movement exploring a musical narrative of the bison’s once and future home in the American landscape and consciousness.

Along with the bison, the wolf has become an emblem of such primal wilderness. Continue reading

Stories of Wildlife Conservation in “Refuge” by Nell Shaw Cohen

Bison Bison

Bison in Yellowstone. Photo © 2010 Douglas Bowen. Made available under CC BY 2.0 license. Source.

Refuge (2016) for flute (piccolo), percussion, violin, and cello is a 16 1/2 minute narrative suite following the conservation stories of three wild animals and their habitats. Each of these species offers a different perspective from which to reflect upon the National Park Service’s role in wildlife conservation and the diversity and fragility of life on Earth.

I composed this piece for an upcoming World Premiere by Cadillac Moon Ensemble at the Parrish Art Museum in The Hamptons, NY on September 9, 2016, presented by the Landscape Music Composers Network, to celebrate the centennial year of the National Park Service. Learn more about this exciting concert, which also features a World Premiere by Justin Ralls and four other works by members of the Landscape Music Composers Network.

In the following essay, I explore each of the three species and national parks that serve as the focus of Refuge and relate how I’ve approached telling their stories through music. Continue reading

What’s New? Spring 2016

Inaugural Concerts from the Landscape Music Composers Network

Cadillac Moon Ensemble

Cadillac Moon Ensemble. Photo by Karjaka Studios.

Our upcoming event Landscape Music Presents Cadillac Moon Ensemble at the Parrish Art Museum celebrates the National Park Service’s century of conservation with a concert of new music evoking landscape, ecology, wildlife, and adventure.

This concert, which takes place on September 9 in Water Mill, NY, is an exciting collaboration between the Landscape Music Composers Network, the Parrish Art Museum (the Hamptons’ premier fine art museum), and NYC’s fantastic Cadillac Moon Ensemble. We’ll hear music by five Landscape Music composers—Nell Shaw Cohen, Stephen Lias, Justin Ralls, Alex Shapiro, and Stephen Wood—including World Premieres composed by Cohen and Ralls for this occasion.

Check out the press release, purchase tickets, and watch this space for detailed coverage!

Last month saw the first-ever concert affiliated with Landscape Music Composers Network, New Music of Our National Parks, created by Rachel Panitch and presented by the Advent Library Concert Series in Boston, MA. It was an evening of beautiful performances and we were fortunate to attract an appreciative audience, which included members of the National Park Service. In case you missed it, here’s the press release with an overview of the event and a concert preview with samples of each of the pieces that were featured on the program.


Michael Futreal Joins the Composers Network

Michael FutrealWe recently welcomed a new addition to the Landscape Music Composers Network: Michael Futreal, a composer, improvising performer, instrument builder, and multimedia artist based in Shreveport, LA. Recently an Artist-in-Residence at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, Michael creates unique works that “articulate impressions of places as powerful catalysts to imagination and memory.”


Recent Articles on Landscape Music

Intersections: Duets with Nature — The first in Nell Shaw Cohen’s series highlighting large-scale, interdisciplinary, multimedia, and/or collaborative projects at the intersection of music, nature, and environmental advocacy.

Stephen Wood: Wilderness Advocacy Through Music and Education — In this in-depth interview, Stephen Wood shares ideas and experiences behind his concerts and educational programs, elucidating his vision of how music acts as a catalyst for reconnecting us to our environment.

Sketches of Nature: Landscape Music in the Central Asian Steppe — Justin Ralls explores the musical culture of the central Asian steppe and reflects on parallels between the Tuvan approach to “sketches of nature” and western music composition.

Intersections: Duets with Nature

Humpback Whale by Christopher Michel

Humpback Whale by Christopher Michel is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Landscape Music isn’t really a publication for conventional music journalism, but interesting projects frequently come to my attention that are well worth mentioning here. Accordingly, I bring you Intersections: a series of articles highlighting large-scale, interdisciplinary, multimedia, and/or collaborative projects at the intersection of music, nature, and environmental advocacy. These articles will profile groups of diverse projects that share compelling thematic connections.

Each of these projects provide new and illuminating answers to the question of how we can make music about, with, and from natural landscapes (or, as the case may be, seascapes!). And all of the work I’ll be exploring is closely aligned with the ideas behind this website, though these artists are not affiliated with Landscape Music or the Landscape Music Composers Network.

For this first article, I’m focusing on a few unusual projects in which new music is created through a “duet” with sounds from the natural world: POD TUNE, an ambient album featuring whale song; E-Mago, music made with geophysical data; Inuksuit, John Luther Adam’s outdoors epic; and Nat Evans’ The Tortoise, a sonic documentation of the Pacific Crest Trail. Continue reading

Stephen Wood: Wilderness Advocacy Through Music and Education

Photographs from the 2014 Wilderness Act Performance Series at the Outdoor Activity Center in Atlanta, GA. Proximity to Nature by Shawn Taylor and Proximity Viz, LLC. Left to right, middle: Stephen Wood, composer/director; Marti Keller, poet. Bottom: Tim Crump, saxophone; Jessica Sherer, flute; Nick Johns, piano/Corey Denham, percussion; Eric Fontaine, saxophone.

Photographs from the 2014 Wilderness Act Performance Series at the Outdoor Activity Center in Atlanta, GA. Proximity to Nature by Shawn Taylor and Proximity Viz, LLC. Left to right, middle: Stephen Wood, composer/director; Marti Keller, poet. Bottom: Tim Crump, saxophone; Jessica Sherer, flute; Nick Johns, piano/Corey Denham, percussion; Eric Fontaine, saxophone.

Stephen Wood is an Atlanta-based composer, performer, and naturalist who creates classical and jazz music in conversation with wilderness advocacy and environmental education.

Stephen Wood in Nantahala Wilderness Area.

Stephen Wood in Southern Nantahala Wilderness Area.

I asked Stephen, who is a member of the Landscape Music Composers Network, to share some of the ideas and experiences behind his innovative concerts and educational programs, in particular, and to elucidate his vision of how music acts as a catalyst for reconnecting us to our environment.

Stephen writes: “My current work as a composer, educator, and environmentalist is concerned with advocating for our National Preservation System and awakening our human connection to Earth. I do this first by composing music in different genres inspired by these natural themes. Additionally, I participate in and create Artist Residencies for our National Wilderness Preservation System, producing site-specific concerts and “Art Hikes” celebrating human connections to Nature, and presenting my educational workshop “Inspiring Stewardship” in music and science classes.” Continue reading

Sketches of Nature: Landscape Music in the Central Asian Steppe

Тувинские просторы.jpg

By Александр Лещёнок, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia

Editor’s Note: Justin Ralls, guest author and Landscape Music Composers Network member, writes his first essay for Landscape Music.

Last summer while I was hiking in Kings Canyon National Park, I had much on my mind. Walking the trail—admiring the craggy, breathtaking views of granite and pine, listening and following the rush of cold streams and the calls, near and far, of birds, squirrels, and nameless others—there is much to inspire the composer. As a musician, sound is at the forefront of my awareness. But what about the immensity and awe—even terror—one may feel in these intimidating, yet intimate landscapes? Potential metaphors and meanings hide behind every cloud and tree, gust of wind, or mysterious chirp. Of course, it is up to us as composers to relate these experiences in our musical statements and aspirations. This can be a daunting task as we parse out the myriad cultural contexts and perspectives each of us brings to every piece of music and every excursion in the mountains. Informing ourselves about how other cultures draw upon the landscape in their music gives us new perspectives and helps us to clear the air of our usual conceptions. In this essay, I invite you on an adventure to another culture and another landscape.

Nature music: Seagulls at Chagatai Lake in south central Tuva. From Where Rivers and Mountains Sing: Sound, Music, and Nomadism in Tuva and Beyond.

The musical culture of the central Asian steppe possesses an embodied connection to landscape. Here, every musical utterance is imbued with place: whether it is the metaphorical feelings of place, the contour of mountains and valleys, or the subtleties and nuances of timbre and sound in the environment itself. Theodore Levin’s Where Rivers and Mountains Sing: Sound, Music, and Nomadism in Tuva and Beyond explores how a sustained, nomadic herder lifestyle creates mutually supportive, cultural links to the natural world. Tuva is a Russian republic in southern Siberia, nestled within the northwest border of Mongolia. Tuva is famous for its biodiverse landscapes of grassland steppes, deserts, and tall mountains, where traditionally nomadic tribes have lived for centuries. Levin describes “a sonic journey through a landscape and soundscape whose inhabitants preserve what is arguably one of the world’s oldest forms of music-making.”1Levin, T., & Süzükei, Valentina. (2006). Where rivers and mountains sing: Sound, music, and nomadism in Tuva and beyond. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Pg. 3 Continue reading

References   [ + ]

1. Levin, T., & Süzükei, Valentina. (2006). Where rivers and mountains sing: Sound, music, and nomadism in Tuva and beyond. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Pg. 3