Based in Shreveport, LA
“Musical interpretations of landscape can articulate impressions of places as powerful catalysts to imagination and memory. For me, to be in a landscape is to feel immersed in the deep time of life and Earth as it relates to the brief candle of individual perspective; landscape music can give voice to this relationship, and, at its best, help kindle it.”
Michael Futreal (b. 1971) composes, improvises, and performs rural space music, primarily using acoustic and electric instruments that he hand-builds: chromatic dulcimers, mountain dulcimers, and tonehole flutes. Derived from gourd, bamboo, and scrap wood, his instruments suggest the folk music of Appalachia, a world he encountered growing up in North Carolina in the 1970s and 80s. Like Béla Bartók working with the musical traditions of Dalmatia and eastern Europe, Futreal is inspired by the techniques of old time Appalachian music but creates new works that stand outside of genre and run a gamut from folksy modal music to spacey polymodal chromaticism. Because rural space music thrives upon tension between the familiar and the strange, he augments acoustic textures with magnetic pickups and effects-mediated timbres: droning strings, looped constructs, sample-and-hold frozen soundscapes, granular clouds, etc.
As Futreal was first beginning to research and develop his art practices in the early 1990s, he was also completing a Master’s Degree in Applied Sociology at North Carolina State University. It was during this time that his family relocated to a small town near the Great Smokey Mountains, affording him ample opportunity for “field work” towards an understanding of the Appalachian setting (and landscape more generally) as the meaning-imbued and mutually impacting interface between people and place. Such connections power one meaning of “rural space” in Futreal’s music: an openness to interplay of landscape experience, imagination, and memory: an artistic inquiry that continues to drive his exploration of “landscape music.” In recent years, Futreal has undertaken Artist-in-Residence tenures at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in Nevada (2015) and at The Avian Kingdom biosphere reserve in Sweden (2017), as well as joined with likeminded artists in the Landscape Music Composers Network.
Michael established his trio Twang Darkly in 2010 to perform the music he’d been recording over years in which he worked as an instructor and web developer at Centenary College of Louisiana. He continues to perform with Twang Darkly at various events and venues around the northwest Louisiana region but since 2012 has stepped away from conventional employment to pursue his art career. In 2014, Futreal landed a grant from Shreveport Regional Arts Council (SRAC) to stage a multimedia performance, Martian Archaeology, featuring a suite of original music and animation exploring the interplay between imagination and discovery. During the same timeframe, he also worked to complete the score for the indie feature film Counting for Thunder. In addition to the residencies already mentioned, Michael also pursued a series of musical and multimedia endeavors in the years after Martian Archaeology. In 2016, he staged a grant-supported joint museum exhibition with Bossier City salvage/sci-fi artist Steve Zihlavsky, again creating both animation and music. In the same year, Michael also convened an extended sextet version of Twang Darkly to perform music he composed for Shreveport stage show, Nick Cave AS IS. In 2018, he utilized another SRAC grant to conduct an experimental open-to-the-public recording session, New Research in Rural Space music.
Futreal has received several recognitions for his compositional and performance work. He was awarded a 2015 Music Fellowship by the Shreveport Regional Arts Council. In 2019, Michael was again honored by the regional council, this time as Best in Show for the Performing Arts division of SRAC’s Critical Mass 7. One of the judges for Critical Mass, Dallas Morning News art critic Manny Mendoza, summarized Futreal’s practice: “There’s nothing commercial about what Futreal is doing and yet the pure artistry of it is transporting. We hope and believe he’ll use the award to further explore his singular take on American musical traditions.”
Sentinal (2017) performed by the composer on chromatic dulcimer, guitar, and banjo.
“During experiences of wilderness solitude, I often find myself engaging with elements of the landscape in an imaginative, animistic way. A long unused fence post becomes a wise, wizened sentinel of the trail, a keeper of the slow stories of that place—and a character in my own narrative understanding of my time there.”
Skåne Motion (2017) performed by the composer on chromatic dulcimer, electric gourd, and overtone flute.
“To break free of my limited perspective, I sometimes use photographic tools to consider the landscape at varied temporal and physical scales; in this case, I set up a time-lapse film of snails in a Swedish meadow to discover a deeper sense of the life-ways at the heart of the meadow ecology.”