By Annette Hinkle
What exactly is music? Most people’s accept definition of music is the stringing together of specific notes played on a defined instrument for the enjoyment of others.
Or is it, in fact, something more?
What about sounds of nature, traffic, work — which can be considered music to some ears — noise to others. And what happens when two distinct soundtracks are offered simultaneously? Do they merge into a seamless whole elevating the experience to a higher level?
There’s only one way to find out…
This Friday, the Parrish Art Museum will offer an aural experience or sound collage if you will — that represents a collaborative effort between musicians Ulf Skogsbergh and Carlos Lama.
The piece, entitled “Clairaudience” will be offered in the theater at the Parrish at 6 p.m., and it is the closing event of artist Hope Sandrow’s Platform project “Genius Loci,” a three month long residency at the museum.
In her artwork, Sandrow, who is Skogsbergh’s wife, delves into the sense of place — in particular, this place, through time, history and life today. The sounds presented in the melding of Lama and Skogsbergh’s vision reflects Sandrow’s focus on East End life, both then and now.
For this project, Skogsbergh, a musician who has recorded with a range of artists and composed scores for film, set out to capture a full slate of sounds representing life on the East End. These include waves hitting shore, distant drumming emanating from the Shinnecock Reservation during the annual Pow Wow, the sounds of shucking corn and even traffic clogging Route 27. All these sounds, he maintains, represent the rhythms and patterns of life on the East End — both past and present.
For his part of the collaboration, Lama, an audio engineer and DJ who has also played in bands, used Skogsbergh’s sounds as the jumping off point for his own musical inspiration and interpretation. Friday’s performance, which will be mixed live, will feature a “sensurround” experience of sorts with Skogsbergh’s recordings dominating one side of the room while Lama’s response emanate from the other. Though it is rehearsed, and the pieces selected are meant to relate to one another — at least for Skogsbergh and Lama — what the audience ultimately perceives will be entirely up to them.
When asked about their respective musical backgrounds and how it relates to this project, Skogsbergh responds, “I’m probably more versed in music … but is this music?”
“It depends what your definition of music is,” counters Lama. “We’re just changing perceptions about what music can be – found sounds, like those in every day life. It is music but composed of sounds found in nature.”
“I like genre busting,” adds Skogsbergh. “I’m not sure if this is music we’re doing. It is, in a way, but it’s more of a sound performance that harkens to what you hear every day.”
“I would say it’s storytelling, more like a movie,” he adds.
While the term “clairvoyance” refers to the ability to be able to see clearly, Skogsbergh notes that “clairaudience,” conversely, is hearing deeply — think of it as a form of aural channeling that brings complex meaning.
“It’s a sense of hearing things beyond what you can normally hear,” adds Lama. “Just being able to hear something outside the expected realm forces people to pay attention, slow down and listen.”
To facilitate the focus on the senses — or at least, that one in particular — the theater at the Parrish will be darkened and punctuated with some visual cues to engage the audience.
“It’s very cinematic and historical,” adds Lama of what people will actually experience during the 40 minute presentation. “The way I envision it is more of an inward journey where there’s no other sense except sound and that triggers images with memories. People will make up their own mind.”
For his part, though Lama has a history of playing and singing in bands, his real passion comes from the audio engineering side of music and recordings that are already out there.
“Music has always been in my blood,” he adds. “My head is firmly stuck in the sand of the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. But I’m interested in sound in and of itself, not just music, and how it effects memory, both physically and emotionally.”
For this collaborative sound collage, while Skogsbergh offers soundscapes recorded locally, Lama is going “old school” to include specific sound memories from his own record collection.
“I wanted to incorporate older technology, like turntables,” says Lama. “I love the physicality of vinyl. Now it’s such a dinosaur medium.”
“I’m also referencing a time and place,” he adds. “The items I have come from the ‘70s, mostly. There was a series of ‘70s records called “Environments,” with things like the ultimate thunderstorm, or dawn at Okefenokee Swamp.”
“I would add that he’s doing that in response to some of my sounds,” notes Skogsbergh.
While Skogsbergh and Lama have their own reasoning for why they combined certain sounds the way they did, they are not sharing that motivation with the audience, preferring instead to let them decide for themselves. Understanding that sounds in a room can have a range of effects on people — from offending and frightening to soothing or inspiring, one yet to be determined element in Friday’s show is the way in which the audience will participate — or not.
“The newness of it sort of invites them to do silly stuff,” says Skogsbergh.
“We’ve never done anything like this,” adds Lama. “it’s walking a tight rope. But you have to take a chance.”
“Clairaudience” begins at 6 p.m. this Friday, March 22 at the Parrish Art Museum, 25 Job’s Lane, Southampton, 279 Montauk Highway, Water Mill. Tickets are $10 (children free – and encouraged). Call 283-2118 for details.