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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. Co-presented by Other Minds and The David Brower Center.

Photo of Michael Pisaro by Yuko Zama.

UPCOMING EVENT: Michael Pisaro, Tuesday, May 22, 7:00pm

Michael Pisaro is a composer and guitarist, and a member of the Wandelweiser Composers Ensemble. Hi 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. A particularly large category of his music is solo works, notably a series of 36 pieces (grouped into 6 longer works) for the three-year, 156-concert series organized by Carlo Inderhees at the Zionskirche in Berlin-Mitte from 1997-1999. Another solo piece, pi (1-2594), was performed in installments by the composer on 15 selected days in February, 1999, in Evanston, Illinois, and in Düsseldorf in 2000-2001.

His work is frequently performed in the U.S. and in Europe, in music festivals and in many smaller venues. It has been selected twice by the ISCM jury for performance at World Music Days festivals (Copenhagen,1996; Manchester, 1998) and has also been part of festivals in Hong Kong (ICMC, 1998), Vienna (Wien Modern,1997), Aspen (1991) and Chicago (New Music Chicago, 1990, 1991). He has had extended composer residencies in Germany (Künstlerhof Schreyahn), Switzerland (Forumclaque/Baden), Israel (Miskenot Sha’ananmim), Greece (EarTalk) and in the U.S. (Birch Creek Music Festival/ Wisconsin). Concert length portraits of his music have been given in Munich, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, Vienna, Brussels, Curitiba (Brazil), Berlin, Chicago, Düsseldorf, Zürich, and Cologne.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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, and has designed sounds for exhibits at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, Seattle.

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