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In 19th Century classical music, orchestral “tone poems” by Liszt, Dvorak, and Smetana employed musical instruments to suggest sounds of nature. But with the advent of portable recording equipment, composers began to incorporate environmental and ambient sounds into their musical compositions, literally transforming THE NATURE OF MUSIC. Join us for special events paying homage to the best of these musical pioneers.

Large ensemble performing outdoors.

Since 1980, Wendy Reid has composed an ongoing set of musical processes based on nature, Tree Pieces, ranging from electro-acoustic chamber compositions to larger works for open ensembles in site-specific environments. Processes of the Tree Pieces reflect the inter-connection of all things. At the 18th edition of The Nature of Music, Reid discussed and performed a set of Tree Pieces focusing on the Bird Collection, five works spanning four decades, at the Dresher Ensemble Studio in Oakland.

This event took place on July 13, 2023 at the Paul Dresher Ensemble Studio.


Christopher Luna-Mega is a composer and improviser whose work analyzes sounds and data from natural and urban environments and translates them into notated music for performers and electronics. His Night Music is derived from direct transcriptions and arrangements of a 5-channel recording of the summer dusk and night sounds of insects at Walnut Creek Park in Albemarle County, Virginia. The piece is structured in five movements, each taken from a fragment of the original 40-minute recording. The striking increase in harmonic density and loudness as the recording unfolds is the guiding formal principle of the piece. The recording, featured in the electronics, was made with five microphones and each microphone analysis and transcription was assigned to one instrument. The multi-channel recording sought an expanded listening field resulting from the different microphone responses and placings. The piece was performed by the reed quintet Splinter Reeds.

This event took place on May 11, 2022 at the David Brower Center.

Karen Power Records outside of a bog.

Karen Power (born 1977) is a composer whose work spans compositions for orchestras to sound installations. Power’s compositions utilize two primary sources, acoustic instruments and everyday sounds, to create spaces and soundscapes. Her output is diverse – both in its approach and delivery – and her primary aim is to capture and translate the essence of an idea through any artistic means necessary. Everyday environments and how we hear everyday sounds lies at the core of Power’s practice with a continued interest in blurring the distinction between what most of us call “music” and all other sound. She has found inspiration in the natural world and they ways we respond to the spaces we occupy, utilizing our inherent familiarity with such sounds and spaces as a means of engaging with audiences. Resulting works challenge the listener’s memory of hearing while simultaneously presenting new contexts for such sounds.

This event took place on April 12, 2022 at the Paul Dresher Ensemble Studio.

Hildegard Westerkamp recording a camel with a microphone

Other Minds teamed up with Hildegard Westerkamp to deliver boats, trains, fog horns, church bells, and “soundwalking” to your home. Sound artist and composer Hildegard Westerkamp was the subject of the 15th installment of The Nature of Music, subtitled The Soundscape Speaks. Presented in the form of a virtual interview conducted by veteran radio producer Charles Amirkhanian, the evening featured seven works by Westerkamp composed between 1978 to 2021, giving a short survey of the composer’s vast body of work. The pair also discussed the meaning and origins of “acoustic ecology,” how sound impacts the day-to-day of one’s life, the environmental effects of sound, and the role of radio in the proliferation of sound art.

The Soundscape Speaks was made possible due to the generosity of Barbara Bessey.

This event took place on August 18, 2021 as a livestreamed virtual event.


This event featured Other Minds Executive Director Charles Amirkhanian in conversation with our featured composer Jim Nollman, who has dedicated his life to the science of “interspecies” communication and music. Jim Nollman (born January 1947 in Boston) is a composer of music for theater, a conceptual artist, and an environmental activist. He graduated from Tufts University in 1969. In 1973, he composed a Thanksgiving Day radio piece and recorded himself singing children’s songs with three hundred turkeys. He has recorded interspecies music with various other animals. He released several albums on Folkways Records, including Playing Music with Animals: Interspecies Communication of Jim Nollman with 300 Turkeys, 12 Wolves and 20 Orcas. Nollman directed one of Greenpeace’s first overseas projects, at Iki Island, Japan, where fishermen were slaughtering dolphins to compensate for human overfishing. In 1978, Nollman founded Interspecies, which sponsors artists’ efforts to communicate with animals through music and art. Its best-known project is a twenty-five-year study using live music to interact with wild orcas off the west coast of Canada.

This event took place on December 3, 2020 as a livestreamed virtual event.

This concert featured Charles Amirkhanian’s Im Frühling (In Springtime) including the sounds of a quiet forest, elephant seals mating, birds, water lapping, thunderstorms, and Son of Metropolis San Francisco on the occasion of his 75th birthday. Im Frühling features natural sounds recorded all over the globe which are slightly effected and layered to create a kind of environmental symphony. In Son of Metropolis San Francisco various water sounds predominate because San Francisco is surrounded on three sides by the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay. Nature sounds and a reflective mode dominate the work rather than bustling city sounds. Amirkhanian’s San Francisco refers to an area larger than the city itself—a rural California which is evident in the sounds he has chosen to incorporate in the piece reflecting the strong consciousness of the environment which is prevalent in Northern California. There is a respect for, and love of, nature which is reflected in the thriving environmental movement centered nationally in this area.

This event took place on January 19, 2020 at the Goldman Theater at the David Brower Center in Berkeley, California.

The Nature of Music

Composer Matthew Burtner makes music with glaciers. His recent impressive CD release, Glacier Music, was the subject of his interview concert with OM Artistic Director Charles Amirkhanian. Burtner composes music for concert instruments accompanied by glacier sounds, closely recorded by the composer. He currently serves as Professor of Composition and Computer Technology at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and Director of EcoSono. His music and research explores embodiment, climate change, polymetrics, and noise. He was born in 1970 in Naknek, Alaska, a small coastal fishing village. He presented recordings of Sound Cast of Matanuska Glacier for mixed octet and a video collaboration with Time Lapse Dance (NY). His music has won numerous competitions and prizes internationally.

This event took place on April 13, 2019 at the Goldman Theater at the David Brower Center in Berkeley, California.

Andy Guthrie
Andy Guthrie in NorwayPhoto by Billy Gomberg

With the two pieces in Andy Guthrie‘s program for our 11th iteration of The Nature of Music, Other Minds reached a milestone, with the 100th and 101st world premieres of the organization’s 25-year history. The first work on the program was Lenser 7730, a solo for electronically spatialized horn, field recordings, and video, all of which draw inspiration from sounds and shadows of translucent objects. Guthrie then presented Hackle, an indeterminate spatial work for voice, 24 tuned musical glasses, oboe, French horns, amplified guitar, and electronics. The work sets text from Cole Swensen’s The Glass Age and uses samples of music by Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn, and piezoelectric crystals—a mysterious sound-producing alternative energy source.

This concert took place on January 10, 2019 at the Goldman Theater at the David Brower Center in Berkeley, California.


Linda Bouchard’s works are defined by the importance of color and textures, and the structures of her compositions are intimately linked to the orchestral choices she makes for each composition, be it a solo piece or a composition for full orchestra. Her compositions are often inspired by nature’s geometry, structure, and textures, as if writing music could begin by staring with a magnifying glass at nature’s elements — water, gas, rock formations, chemical reactions — then from those images creating a series of abstract landscapes.

This concert took place on October 16, 2018 at the Goldman Theater at the David Brower Center in Berkeley, California.


As a performance duo, Joshua Churchill and John Davis operate spontaneously to create densely layered organic and atmospheric works, combining Churchill’s dynamic soundscapes with Davis’s handmade, and often hand processed, 16mm and Super 8 films. For Other Minds, Joshua Churchill and John Davis will present a collaborative performance that engages viewers in meditative and abstract environments, using imagery and sounds are rooted in the environment and its natural rhythms. Joshua Churchill and John Davis‘ collaborative work has recently been featured at Dark Sea Cinema in Oakland, The San Francisco Cinematheque Crossroads Festival at SFMOMA, MONO NO AWARE in Brooklyn, and The San Francisco Electronic Music Festival.

This concert took place on July 12, 2018 at the Goldman Theater at the David Brower Center in Berkeley, California.


Michael Pisaro is a composer and guitarist, and a member of the Wandelweiser Composers Ensemble. He is also a member of the composition faculty at CalArts in Valencia, CA. He has written over 80 works for a wide variety of instrumental combinations, including several pieces for variable instrumentation. Pisaro performed two works at this event. Transparent City was performed by Michael on guitar, with material recorded at locations in Los Angeles. asleep, forest, melody, path, a piece devoted to the investigation of a location through field recordings and live performance, was performed by Michael and the Other Minds Ensemble (Wendy Reid, Randall Wong, Michael Jones, Liam Herb, and Lula Asplund) with pre-recorded material.

This concert took place on May 22, 2018 at the Goldman Theater at the David Brower Center in Berkeley, California.


Internationally-renowned sound artist Bill Fontana uses sound as a sculptural medium to interact with and transform our perceptions of natural and architectural spaces. He often uses a rich orchestration of live sounds from numerous locations in a landscape, collapsing the experience of square miles of geography to the space of a room. For The Nature of Music series, Mr. Fontana spoke with Charles Amirkhanian on February 15, 2018, and gave a presentation about his innovative sound works and sculptures. He focused on Shadow Soundings, a recent piece he executed in Lisbon based on the sights and sounds of their Golden Gate Bridge lookalike, the 25 de Abril Bridge. He also discussed his work for the International Renewable Energy Agency, Primal Sonic Visions.

This concert took place on February 15, 2018 at the Goldman Theater at the David Brower Center in Berkeley, California.

annea lockwood

We were thrilled to have one of the world’s leading figures in environmental music, Annea Lockwood, with us on November 9 to discuss her music of the world’s rivers. Annea’s work ranges from compositions for conventional voices and instruments to graphic scores, electronics, and manipulated sounds, both natural and “unnatural.” She began with a presentation on her sound maps of the Hudson and Danube rivers. She discussed her sound installation concurrently on view at The Lab in San Francisco, and a performance she gave at The Lab the following week, where she, William Winant and Fred Frith performed Jitterbug, the score of which is an actual striated rock. The evening concluded with a Q&A session led by Charles Amirkhanian.

This concert took place on November 9, 2017 at the Goldman Theater at the David Brower Center in Berkeley, California.

Marielle V Jakobsons Headshot

Marielle V Jakobsons is a composer and intermedia artist based in Oakland, CA. Her compositions evoke minimalism with melodic drone and enveloping polyrhythmic soundscapes of synthesizers, strings, and voice. She builds installations and instruments which bring focus to visceral experience of sound and light, most recently with her “Macro-Cymatic Visual Music Instrument.”  Marielle collaborates extensively in the experimental arts as a sound designer and composer for interactive media and film. As a solo multi-instrumentalist, and with her bands “Date Palms,“ “Myrmyr,“ and other collaborations, she has published recordings on Thrill Jockey, Mexican Summer, Students of Decay, Digitalis, Important Records, and toured internationally.

This concert took place on June 11, 2017 at the Goldman Theater at the David Brower Center in Berkeley, California.

Andrew Roth Press Photo

Andrew Roth, one of America’s most creative and versatile sound designers presented a program and retrospective of his work. His creative mediums span the gamut from audio cds to creating sound environments for amusement parks, radio, television, film and video games. His work not only evokes a sense of place but also of time, notably recreations of sound worlds that no longer exist, e.g., the 1850’s SF Barbary Coast and SF’s Playland at the Beach (1913-72). His most recent cd, Natural Sounds of Japan, is neither quite meditative nor music, and yet it somehow manages to be both. The variety of the sounds, from creaking ice through bird calls, which for most listeners will sound exotic, to waves breaking on a pebble beach, are fascinating.

This concert took place on April 13, 2017 at the Goldman Theater at the David Brower Center in Berkeley, California.

Alvin Curran playing horn

Alvin Curran has been a leader in many areas of experimental music since the Sixties. In keeping with the theme The Nature of Music, the composer screened some of his private videos of the major environmental performance works he’s created. As a pioneer in this genre (also practiced by John Cage, R. Murray Schafer, Charlie Morrow, Pauline Oliveros, and later John Luther Adams, among many others), Curran’s work is distinguished by a heightened sensitivity to overall formal construction but without reference to mathematics or music theory. Curran is an eclectic entertainer and, in magpie fashion, open to any and all content, and adept at its employment. His genius is in the unfolding of his pieces in time, and holding back surprises until just the right moment. At a Curran event, anything is possible.

This concert took place on November 20, 2016 at the Goldman Theater at the David Brower Center in Berkeley, California.

Raven Chacon performing electronics

Raven Chacon (born Fort Defiance, Navajo Nation, Arizona, USA) is a composer of chamber music, a performer of experimental noise music, an installation artist, and is recognized as one of the few Native Americans working in these multiple genres. He performs regularly as a solo artist as well as with numerous ensembles in the Southwest. He is also a member of the American Indian multi-media art collective, Postcommodity, recently the recipient of an unrestricted $50,000 award from the Ford Foundation for their work to “help advance freedom, justice, and inclusion, and strengthen our democracy.” Chacon’s work explores sounds of acoustic handmade instruments overdriven through electric systems, and the direct and indirect audio feedback responses from their interactions.

This concert took place on September 7, 2016 at the Goldman Theater at the David Brower Center in Berkeley, California.

Cheryl Leonard

Cheryl E. Leonard is a composer, performer, and instrument builder. Over the last decade she has focused on investigating sounds, structures, and objects from the natural world. Her recent works cultivate stones, wood, water, ice, sand, shells, feathers, and bones as musical instruments. Leonard is fascinated by the subtle intricacies of sounds. She uses microphones to explore micro-aural worlds hidden within her sound sources and develops compositions that highlight the unique voices they contain. Her projects often feature one-of-a-kind sculptural instruments that are played live onstage and field recordings from remote locales. Leonard enjoys collaborating across artistic disciplines and creating site-specific works.In addition to developing her own projects, she has composed numerous soundtracks for film, video, dance, and theater.

This concert took place on May 11, 2016 at the Goldman Theater at the David Brower Center in Berkeley, California.

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