Is there a connection between noise and money? Which sounds are healing to us as humans, and which are damaging? And what does an abandoned water tank in Colorado have in common with the Taj Mahal or a Gothic cathedral?
These are questions that sound artist and composer Bruce Odland has been pondering for decades. While Odland began his career in the traditional music world—one that emphasized Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms—Odland discovered that his academic training didn’t correspond with his own experiences in the American landscape. While traveling in the mountains out West, he began to invent a new musical language—one based on the random sounds of nature instead of the repeated sounds and rhythms found in both Western music and in man-made machines.
Odland is known for his large-scale, public space sound installations which transform city noise into harmony, realtime. In 2004 he and collaborator Sam Auinger altered the harmonic mix of the World Financial Center Plaza in New York City, using the moon, tides, harmonic tuning tubes, and cement loudspeakers. Together they have changed the sonic character of many public spaces around the world. His most recent project with Auinger involves transforming Switzerland’s oldest mental hospital into a space filled with healing sounds. Odland has also worked with artists like Laurie Anderson, Dan Graham, Andre Gregory, Wally Shawn, Peter Sellars, and the Wooster Group.
Bruce recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to save an abandoned water tank in Colorado. The Tank is considered one of the sonic marvels of the world within a certain circle of composers and sound artists. The group, called Friends of the Tank, has started a nonprofit to preserve the unique structure as a space for community gatherings, music events, and recording sessions. The group needs to raise $42,000 in order to preserve the space, and they won’t receive any donations if they don’t meet their goal by March 31st.
A few weeks ago Bruce and I had an in-depth conversation about the Tank, sonic space, and the political and personal implications of the sounds we encounter each day.
As Bruce explained during our interview, “We won’t understand ourselves as a culture until we also understand the sounds we make.”
Bruce opened my eyes to the connection between noise, money, and energy. ”Noise is the sound of all of the power that we’re using at this moment,” he said. Our surroundings are “resonating with the sound of the wastestream of our economy and we have to walk through it and wade through it, and it affects what we can think that day, it affects our potential connection to the ecology, to the environment, to ourselves as people walking about with connections to other things on the planet.” In other words, almost anything that makes money is allowed to make noise. An “ultra-quiet” Cadillac is quiet for the owner, not for the person walking down the sidewalk when the car passes.
We live in a visual cultural, and we have lost our “hearing perspective,” a term coined by Odland and his collaborator Sam Auinger. While an architect like Yoshio Taniguchi, can design a breathtaking new space at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the design, like so many contemporary structures, doesn’t take sound into consideration. The end result: a beautiful space that is an acoustical nightmare. But as Odland explains, we don’t teach architects the nuances of sound. Our disciplines are too insular and not always as collaborative as they could be.
According to Odland, we have repressed our sonic skills as a survival mechanism. There are no repeating tones in nature, unlike the repetitive hum of a jet or car engine, or the whine of a refrigerator. Such sounds “freeze us in time and space,” Bruce says.
Odland’s work attempts to resurrect our buried aural senses. During my interview, you’ll hear a number of Bruce’s compositions, including a water and snow harp (created and recorded outdoors), recordings made at The Tank in Colorado, and elaborate artworks that transform noisy urban landscapes into deeper experiences.
You can listen to the interview below or choose download to listen on your i-Pod or phone or in i-Tunes.
(If you’re reading this article in an email and can’t see the interview below, click here to listen on the Gwarlingo website.)
The above sound file has better quality, but if you want to download a smaller MP3 version of the interview to listen on your i-Pod, computer, or phone, click this link.
To learn more about the sounds of Bruce Odland, visit his website. You can contribute to the Friends of the Tank Kickstarter campaign and help them reach their $42,000 goal by March 31st by visiting the Save the Tank Kickstarter page. You can explore music from The Tank here. Bruce’s collaborations with Sam Auinger can be found at the O+A website.
An Update on the Gwarlingo Membership Drive
Thanks to all of the readers who have contributed to the Gwarlingo Membership Drive. Instead of selling out to advertisers, I’m “selling out” to my readers instead! 100+ Gwarlingo readers have contributed so far and $10,800 of the $15,000 goal has been raised. If you haven’t donated yet, you can check out my video and all of the member rewards, including some limited-edition artwork, here on the Gwarlingo site.
Stay up on the latest poetry, books, and art news by having Gwarlingo delivered to your email inbox. It’s easy and free! You can also follow Gwarlingo on Twitter and Facebook.