By: Drew Bordeaux
Drew Bordeaux, the new Music Editor at B&NC Mag, was a COO of a business planning and analytics firm prior to focusing full-time on creative pursuits. Drew is a musician, who plays 8 instruments including guitar and violin, and performs over 100 shows per year. Drew is a photographer, recently featured in Vogue, and a writer, with pop culture articles appearing in Sports Illustrated, College Humor, and Maxim. Drew is a Fox Lane and Harvard graduate, and lives locally with his wife, Tammy.
Caramoor Center for Music and Arts is synonymous with top-notch musicians and amazing performances, tranquil gardens and beautiful landscapes, stunning architecture and compelling artifacts. While many of us in the area have visited to see a performance, taken a tour of the historic Rosen House, or even attended a graduation, one of the most exciting aspects of the venue is their growing commitment to sound art installations.
Caramoor’s annual series Sonic Innovations serves as one of the largest displays of sound art in the nation and is overseen by Chicago-based curator and Northwestern University professor Stephan Moore. To commemorate their 75th Anniversary, Caramoor has unveiled a permanent commissioned work by Trimpin, a majestic sound art sculpture entitled In “C”. Trimpin, an internationally acclaimed composer, musician, visual artist, inventor and MacArthur foundation “Genius” award recipient, created the 16-foot high double letter C as an “interactive and kinetic” structure that will welcome guests as they arrive. The steel sculpture has 24 tuned metal bell chimes suspended from the top of the “C,” which are activated by a motion sensor and can be played by a push-button that triggers pre-composed pieces. In “C” also
features an education mode, which will allow it to be played by a digital keyboard, with each key playing a different chime.
We were eager to speak with both Trimpin and Moore to discuss sound art, this unique flagship sculpture and also about what it means to create and provide access to sound art during these unique times.
Moore, an accomplished composer and sound artist in his own right, helped explain what sound art is: “Sound art is music organized in space [and] the experience of sound that goes outside of the concert hall. [It] thinks about sound in a context where the context itself is subject to artist creation and manipulation.” Moore is on a mission to help make Caramoor the “Storm King of sound art.”
In 2014, Caramoor launched their first major sound art exhibition, In the Garden of Sonic Delights. Moore shared that, “Sound art at Caramoor wouldn’t exist without Trimpin.” While the venue has featured numerous works by many artists, Trimpin is a visionary and pioneer in the field, whose relationship with Caramoor dates back to that first exhibition, where he shared an installation entitled “The Pianohouse” - a work which included six upright piano frameworks configured in the shape of a house, that played as visitors approached.
Trimpin spoke highly about how the grounds shaped his thinking and inspiration for In "C”. “Through Stephan, I’ve had the opportunity several times to do work at Caramoor. It was always this magical place where nature is totally around...where you can listen to the birds and the environment. It’s quite a ways from the traffic and other industrial noises, so it’s really a magical place in terms of what you can do with sound art in this space.”
Sound art is a complex multidisciplinary field, where each piece can pose brand new challenges and opportunities. Trimpin outlined the unique considerations for the construction of In "C”, which included careful work with structural engineers to ensure the safety of the piece for the public and the selection of materials that provided both long term durability as well proper sonic resonance. Important compromises are made in the design of such outdoor structures to ensure it’s less likely for animals like squirrels to be attracted or for birds to nest in the installation. Interestingly, while the structure is complete, as of the writing of this article, the compositions that will be played by the push-button have not yet been written. Both Moore and Trimpin explained that because of the amount of variables that impact the final sound of an installation, it’s not uncommon to save this part of the process until after the “instrument” is built.
When asked about the role of sound art at Caramoor as our community and nation deal with the pandemic, Moore shared, “No matter what happens to the concert programming, people are going to be able to come in small groups, experience the work here, and do that in a way that is safe.” He continued, “We are still going to exist, we’re still going to be putting forward an offering. It’s a difficult moment for all of us in so many ways, but whatever small way it adds to people’s lives... to be able to come out of the house, to come to a beautiful spot to experience some art and have a destination… Every organization and everyone has their role to play in this, and if we can play that role for some people and offer some possibility in this difficult year, that’s what we have that we can do.”
When asked about the various configurations of notes from the chimes, and if he had any concerns over how the chimes could be played by others, Trimpin shared a valuable insight which holds an interesting lesson for all of us right now: “Dissonance doesn’t exist in nature. You don’t complain when birds are singing because they are singing completely out of tune. You don’t complain because they are in nature singing and suddenly it sounds beautiful.”