Open your ears.
Sonic Innovations continues to expand Caramoor’s programming with an annual exhibition of sound art, curated by Stephan Moore, from artists working with sonic materials outside the traditions of concert music. Each artist has drawn inspiration from their chosen location, creating work that is mindful of the natural and human-made sounds and systems already present in the environment, while engaging each site’s unique characteristics — be they acoustic, historic, architectural, or natural.
Our grounds are open for picnicking, walking, and exploring the sound art from 10:00am-4:00pm. But please note, that although the gates are open, we cannot guarantee staff will be on-site, and bathrooms may be closed. The sound art is no longer available starting November 1. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.
2022 Sonic Innovations
Timbre and Frequency (2022)
Timbre and Frequency (2022)
Mendi + Keith Obadike
Timbre is inspired by African-American writer Toni Morrison. The phrase at the center for this work comes from a particularly sonic passage of her classic novel The Bluest Eye. The passage is about children overhearing and attempting to interpret the speech of adults. Its vocabulary is a combination of natural, vocal, and synthesized sounds, which shimmers and sparkles. Timbre, together with Frequency (installed elsewhere at Caramoor) work together like the A side and B side of a record. Each work hints at an alternate way of listening, an opportunity to perceive something beyond the surface. They are from a larger series of projects using sound, text, and, sculpture that the artists call “tonotypes”.
Frequency is inspired by African-American writer Ralph Ellison. In a passage from his 1952 novel The Invisible Man, the protagonist claims to speak for others on a frequency not heard by all. Ellison was a musician and audiophile, and his experience building audio systems may have led to this now canonical literary construction. This language has been taken up in political and historical studies to address unrecorded histories and untracked political discourse (as “politics on the lower frequencies”). Frequency, together with Timbre (installed elsewhere at Caramoor) work together like the A side and B side of a record. Each work hints at an alternate way of listening, an opportunity to perceive something beyond the surface. They are from a larger series of projects using sound, text, and, sculpture that the artists call “tonotypes”.
Mendi + Keith Obadike
Mendi + Keith Obadike make music, art and literature. Their early works include The Sour Thunder, an Internet opera (Bridge Records), Crosstalk: American Speech Music (Bridge Records), Black.Net.Art Actions, a suite of new media (internet art) works (published in re:skin on M.I.T Press), Big House / Disclosure, a 200-hour public sound installation (Northwestern University), Phonotype, a book & CD of media artworks, and a poetry collection, Armor and Flesh (Lotus Press). They have contributed sounds/music to projects by wide range of artists including loops for neo-soul singer D’Angelo’s first album and a score for playwright Anna Deavere Smith at the Lincoln Center Institute. They were invited to develop their first “opera-masquerade” by writer Toni Morrison at her Princeton Atelier. Their recent projects include a series of large-scale sound art works: American Cypher at Bucknell University and The Studio Museum in Harlem, Blues Speaker (for James Baldwin) at The New School in New York, Free/Phase at the Chicago Cultural Center, Sonic Migration at Scribe Video Center and Tindley Temple in Philadelphia, and Fit (the Battle Of Jericho) at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Their other honors include a Rockefeller New Media Arts Fellowship, Pick Laudati Award for Digital Art, a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction, and the Louis Comfort Tiffany Biennial Award. Their intermedia work has been commissioned by The NY African Film Festival and Electronic Arts Intermix, The Yale Cabaret, Whitechapel Art Gallery (London), and The Whitney Museum of Art, among other institutions. Their music has been featured on New York and Chicago public radio, as well as on Juniradio (104.5) in Berlin. They are currently exhibiting in the group show I Was Raised On The Internet at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and developing new work as artists in residence at the Weeksville Heritage Society in Brooklyn, NY.
Keith received a BA in Art from North Carolina Central University and an MFA in Sound Design from Yale University. He is a professor in the College of Arts and Communication at William Paterson University and serves a digital media editor at Obsidian. Mendi received a BA in English from Spelman College and a PhD in Literature from Duke University. After working as a Cotsen Postdoctoral Fellow at Princeton University, she became a poetry editor at Fence Magazine and is currently an associate professor in the Department of Humanities and Media Studies at Pratt Institute. Mendi and Keith also serve as art advisors to the Times Square Alliance and The Vera List Center for Art and Politics.
When Caramoor first asked Trimpin to create a permanent sound art sculpture in celebration of its 75th Anniversary, the world-renowned sound artist thought about Caramoor’s acoustical environment: the birds singing, the wind in the trees, and the blissful absence of street noise. He then conceived of in“C”, the interactive kinetic sculpture shaped as a 16-foot high double letter C now located in the entry plaza, welcoming guests as they arrive. From the top of the C’s curve, 24 tuned metal bell chimes ranging over two octaves are suspended. Made out of steel and utilizing electromechanical components, in“C” interacts with visitors through a motion sensor (as you approach, its melodious chimes draw you closer) and through the physical activation of a push-button panel (don’t be shy!). The push-buttons activate the structure’s chimes to play pre-composed short pieces, each 1–2 minutes long. In addition to Trimpin’s music, Caramoor commissioned pieces from four composers: Christopher Cerrone, Anna Clyne, Missy Mazzoli, and Nico Muhly. As Caramoor continues to work with composers, the chime-piece library will grow. When in“C” is in its education mode, a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) keyboard enables visitors of any musical ability (or even none!) to make their own chime music, as the chimes respond to the strikes on the keyboard.
Trimpin is an internationally acclaimed composer, musician, visual artist, and inventor, engaged in commissions and exhibitions at venues around the world. Born in 1951 and based in Seattle for the past 25 years, he grew up near the German Black Forest, an area that has a history rich in mechanical music machines (think cuckoo clocks and pianolas, or player pianos). Fascinated with sound exploration in his early childhood, Trimpin often experimented with sound and distance in the German woods. Using the tools from a well-stocked cabinetry shop in his home (his father was a cabinet maker by trade), he took apart and reassembled old radios and musical instruments. By age 10, he was inventing his own eccentric instruments. The son of amateur musicians, the young Trimpin learned to play brass instruments but developed a mysterious allergy to metal that forced him to give up playing. He turned to electromechanical engineering. Self-taught, he mastered how the memory works on a pianola and devised a machine that could transcribe and preserve the piano paper rolls digitally. He became a leading specialist in combining musical compositions with computer technology. Throughout his career, he has created installations that incorporate complex technological sculptural elements. On permanent display in his hometown area are: If VI was IX, a sound sculpture composed of 600 electric guitars at MoPOP (Museum of Pop Culture); Hydraulis, an elegant interactive water sculpture at the Seattle Center Key Arena; and On: Matter, Monkeys, and the King, a multimedia kinetic wind-up-toy structure next to the rolling walkway in Sea-Tac International Airport. In his 2014 In the Garden of Sonic Delights installation, The Pianohouse, Trimpin wanted to create a piece that every visitor could feel free to explore. What he created was a house-like structure from the frameworks of six upright pianos. “I try to use other ways to make the sculpture look not so much like a musical instrument, so people will actually play,” Trimpin explains. “My work is an ongoing exploration of the concepts of sound, vision, and movement,” he says, “experimenting with combinations that will introduce our senses of perception to a totally new experience.” A MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Award recipient and a Guggenheim Fellow, Trimpin has been commissioned by Lincoln Center, San Francisco’s Exploratorium, Merce Cunningham Dance Company, and Seattle Symphony, among others.
Wild Energy (2014)
Annea Lockwood and Bob Bielecki
Wild Energy gives access to the inaudible, vibrations in the ultra and infra ranges emanating from sources which affect us fundamentally, but which are beyond our audio perception, many of which are creating our planet’s environment: the sun, the troposphere and ionosphere, the earth’s crust and core, the oxygen-generating trees — everything deeply integrated, forming an inaudible web in which we move, through which we live and on which, therefore, we depend. It is our sense that through these sounds one can feel the energies generated, not as concepts but as energy-fields moving through one’s body. A generating image for the piece is of Caramoor’s trees funneling these energies into the oxygen we breathe as we walk near them, or lie under them.
Wild Energy is a fifty minute loop which begins with solar oscillations recorded by the SOHO spacecraft, sped up 42,000 times, and ends with ultrasound recorded from the interior of a scots pine tree, slowed down 10 times, to make them audible to us. We are deeply grateful to the scientists who so generously gave us access to their sound files and permission to use them. The many sounds and their sources are described below, in order of initial appearance.
Sounds & Sources
Solar oscillations are pressure waves which travel through the body of the sun, causing ripples on the surface which the SOHO spacecraft is recording (NASA and the European Space Agency). Alexander Kosovichev and colleagues at Stanford University’s Solar Oscillation Investigation program, sped up 40 days of solar data by a factor of 42,000, bringing them into the audio range.
Kilauea volcano – gas vents, tremors
Pressurized gas is released as magma rises to the surface, creating pressure fluctuations, infrasound. Gas bubbles contribute to the sounds produced, which can resonate cavities beneath the surface. Infrasound signals recorded from tremors, explosions, fissure eruptions and bench collapses have been recorded by Milton Garces and his team (the Infrasound Laboratory, the University of Hawai’i) in recent years, particularly at the Pu’u O’o and Halema’uma’u vents. Of the recordings we have used here most have been sped up 200 times, a few 100 times.
Chorus waves and whistlers
Very Low Frequency Chorus Waves are electromagnetic waves caused by intense plasma waves generated in the radioactive Van Allen Belts in the magnetosphere surrounding the Earth. Whistlers (also VLF electromagnetic waves) are generated by lightning and move along Earth’s magnetic field lines, between the two hemispheres. Their high frequency components travel more rapidly than their lower frequencies, creating a falling tone. “This is what the radiation belts would sound like if we had antennas for ears” commented Craig Kletzing of the University of Iowa’s Radio & Plasma Wave Group who gave us these recordings and also a recording of AKR emissions. NASA’s two Radiation Belt Storm Probe satellites, together with the University’s EMFISIS receivers recently sent back recordings transmitted in stereo, a new development enriching both the sound and the data picture. Both whistlers and choruses occur at frequencies within our hearing range, and are audible once converted by the receivers.
Sei whales are “the third largest baleen whale, found in subtropical, temperate and subpolar waters worldwide.” (DOSITS) Having been extensively hunted they are now an endangered species, with an estimated current population of 80,000 whales. This whale was recorded by Arthur Newhall (the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution), near the continental shelf break east of New Jersey, just south of the Hudson Canyon.
Dr. Newhall has posted this recording on the University of Rhode Island’s DOSITS (Discovery of Sound in the Sea) website where many interesting oceanographic sound samples may be heard.
The ground shaking of earthquakes is very low frequency, recorded as seismograms which may be sped up to bring them into the hearing range. Arrays of seismometers are used at different distances from the epicenter, which affects the pitch ranges, in addition to the quake’s perceived strength: Because high frequencies lose energy and are dissipated faster with distance than low frequencies, higher pitches and sharp, explosive events indicate a shorter distance from the seismometers, and the deep rumbling ones a greater distance.
The first quake in the installation was the Parkfield quake of 2004 (on the San Andreas Fault), recorded by the USGS. The subsequent quake recordings were given to us by Ben Holtzman, at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University and Jason Candler (www.seismicsoundlab.org): Sumatra 2002, and the Sumatra-Andaman Island great quake of 2004, Japan 2007, and also from Japan 2011 – the ‘tsunami’ quake.
Trees: ultrasound emissions 1
Trees continuously pump water out of the ground through water columns in the xylem layer up to the leaves, enabling photosynthesis to take place. When trees become water-stressed, in drought or other dry conditions, unusually high levels of tension in the water columns lead to their rupture. Air bubbles are formed, blocking water flow and bursting; one indication of this is the ultrasonic acoustic cavitation clicks the trees emit. Biophysicist and tree physiologist, Melvin Tyree, has carried out pioneering research on this and other aspects of water transport in trees and compiled this sequence of cavitation clicks, each distinct and individual, which he sent to Annea over a decade ago. Here is an illustration of the process.
These oceanic vents form when seawater (35.6 degrees F) penetrates cracks in the seabed, moving down toward magma bodies where it absorbs intense heat and minerals. The now superheated water (up to 860 degrees F), which is rich in hydrogen sulfide and minerals, then bursts back up through the seafloor and into the ocean to complete the hydrothermal cycle. The hottest of these vents are called black smokers (named for the black plumes they produce).
Long thought to be silent, hydrophone arrays deployed near the vents have recently revealed that they generate intense broadband acoustic signals at frequencies from 5 to 500Hz, and also “narrowband tones from 10 – 250Hz… Each vent has a unique acoustic signature” (dosits.org). Timothy Crone and colleagues at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory have been recording at the Sully and Puffer black smoker vents in the Main Endeavor Field of the Juan de Fuca Ridge, two hundred miles off the coast of Washington State and gave us filtered examples of the tones generated as the vents’ physical structures resonate.
The echolocation calls bats emit are in the ultrasound range, so these have been slowed down. The following bats (found on Shockwave-Sound.com) are included in Wild Energy:
Pipistrelle bat – we do not have identification for the precise type.
California Myotis bat – prefers desert habitat, known for the great agility of its flight patterns.
Silver-haired bat – the largest of New York’s bats with a wingspan which can reach 16 inches, found largely in the Adirondacks.
Big brown bat – the largest cave bat in New York State with a wingspan of almost 13 inches, and is the most commonly seen summer bat.
Big brown bat hunting tiger moth: This remarkable recording by Aaron Corcoran of Wake Forest University is of a big brown trying to catch a Grote’s tiger moth (Bertholdia trigona) using echolocation. The moth, in turn, is using ultrasound bursts to jam the bat’s echolocation capability – i.e. interference. The recording has been slowed down ten times to bring it into our hearing range.
Auroral kilometric radiation emissions occur along magnetic field lines, and are generated by high-energy particles shooting through Earth’s magnetic field. They are associated with aurora displays, and seem to occur “about 3,000 miles above bright regions” in the auroras which arise in polar regions, University of Iowa researchers Robert Mutel and Donald Gurnett noted in 2001.
Tree ultrasound emissions 2: Scots Pine
Cavitation clicks are not the only ultrasonic acoustic emissions (UAE) from trees. Roman Zweifel, Fabienne Zeugin (Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL) and Marcus Maeder (Institute for Computer Music and Sound Technology, Zurich) have been recording a variety of other emissions from within scots pines, discovering a relationship between the intensity of the emissions and changes in stem radius, for example. This recording, made by Marcus Maeder in 2012, together with an earthquake in Sumatra (recorded in 2004 by Ben Holtzman), can be heard at the end of Wild Energy.
Annea Lockwood & Bob Bielecki
Photo by Nicole Tavenner
Born in New Zealand in 1939 and living in the US since 1973, Annea Lockwood is known for her explorations of the rich world of natural acoustic sounds and environments, in works ranging from sound art and installations, through text-sound and performance art to concert music. Her music has been performed in many venues and festivals including: the Possibility of Action exhibition at MACBA Barcelona, De Ijsbreker, the Other Minds Festival-San Francisco, the Walker Art Center, the American Century: 1950 – 2000 exhibition at the Whitney Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum, Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Westdeutscher Rundfunk, CNMAT Berkeley, the Asia-Pacific Festival, Donaufest 2006 Ulm, the Donau Festival Krems, the 7th Totally Huge New Music Festival Perth, Ear To The Earth Festival — New York and Sonic Acts XIII.
Her sound installation, A Sound Map of the Danube, has been presented in Germany, Austria, and the USA. This is a surround ‘sound map’ of the entire Danube River, incorporating a wide variety of water, animal and underwater insect sounds, rocks from the riverbed, and the voices of those whose lives are intimately connected to the river. Other recent projects include Ceci n’est pas un piano, for piano, video, and electronics commissioned by Jennifer Hymer; Jitterbug, commissioned by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, a six-channel soundscape with two improvising musicians; and In Our Name, a collaboration with Thomas Buckner based on poems by prisoners in Guantánamo. She was a recipient of the 2007 Henry Cowell Award. Her music has been issued on CD and online on the Lovely Music, Ambitus, EM, XI, Rattle, Lorelt, and Pogus labels.
Photo by Marcella Robinson
Bob Bielecki has worked in the media arts field for more than forty years, creating unique instruments and sound designs for installation and performance. He is known for his innovative use of technology to develop distinctive electronic effects and environments and is engaged in ongoing research in psychoacoustics, sound localization, and 3-D audio.
Bob Bielecki has worked with many artists including John Cage, Alvin Lucier, La Monte Young and Pauline Oliveros. His association with Laurie Anderson dates from the mid-1970s and he has worked with Stephen Vitiello and Annea Lockwood since the 1980s.
He produced and engineered the groundbreaking media-arts residency program, ZBS/AIR, and helped to pioneer the field of binaural radio. A recipient of grants from the Andy Warhol Foundation and the New York State Council on the Arts, he is an Associate Professor of Music at Bard College and serves on the faculty of the Bard MFA Program.
Stone Song (2014)
Created for 2014’s In the Garden of Sonic Delights, Stone Song by Ranjit Bhatnagar was originally hosted by the Neuberger Museum of Art of Purchase College, SUNY and was brought to Caramoor in 2015.
“When I look at an old stone wall, I think about how the seemingly solid form has shifted and settled over time, through weathering and the erosion and compression of the soil. In order to explore this process through sound, Stone Song is laced with pressure sensors and strain gauges, and sensors for humidity, temperature, and barometric pressure. All this information feeds into a drone synthesizer, whose fundamental tones shift slowly over the months as the stones settle. Daily weather and seasonal changes will produce smaller, shorter-term changes in the stones’ song, as will the weight of visitors who stop to sit on it and listen.
“I’ve designed Stone Song in collaboration with Hilary Martin, Akira Inman, and Evan Oxland.”
— Ranjit Bhatnagar
Photo by Keira Heu-Jwyn Chang
Ranjit Bhatnagar discovered sound art around age 14, listening to weird late night programs on KPFA. He now works with interactive and sound installations, with scanner photography, and with internet-based collaborative art. Recent works have been exhibited at the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley, the Parc d’aventures scientifiques in Belgium, Flux Factory in Queens, in the Artbots series at Eyebeam Atelier and the Pratt Institute in New York, and the Mermaid Show at the Williamsburg Art and Historical Center in Brooklyn. He recently taught “Mister Resistor” at Parsons School of Design, a studio course and rock band with homemade instruments.
Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Ranjit received a BA from U.C. Berkeley and an MS from the University of Pennsylvania, and was certified carnie trash by the Coney Island Sideshow School in 2002. He lives in Brooklyn next to a nice big park.
t(ch)ime is a site-specific sound installation that utilizes a quiet hideaway on the grounds of Caramoor to create an environment that is both familiar and otherworldly. The sole sound source of the piece is a collection of bell chimes that have been manipulated through increasing layers of digital processing as the path is traversed. The human element of the chime — with its familiar interplay of sound, weather, and nature — is preserved, while the acoustic imperfections are highlighted, drawing attention to the physicality of the materials. As the listener approaches the center, the sound of the installation begins to stand still, while the sounds of nature and the outside world continue. The effect is a small temporal oasis of fragile and reflective sound, in which hearing becomes the listener’s most heightened sense.
The life and work of Taylor Deupree are less a study in contradictions than a portrait of the multidisciplinary artist in a still-young century.
Deupree is an accomplished sound artist whose recordings, rich with abstract atmospherics, have appeared on numerous record labels, as well as in site-specific installations at such institutions as the ICC (Tokyo, Japan) and the Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media (Yamaguchi, Japan). He started out, in the 1990s, making new noises that edged outward toward the fringes of techno, and in time he found his own path to follow. His music today emphasizes a hybrid of natural sounds and technological mediation. It’s marked by a deep attention to stillness, to an almost desperate near-silence.
And though there is an aura of insularity to Depuree’s work, he is a prolific collaborator, having collaborated with the likes of Ryuichi Sakamoto, David Sylvian, Stephan Mathieu, Stephen Vitiello, Christopher Willits, Kenneth Kirschner, Frank Bretschneider, Richard Chartier, Savvas Ysatis, Tetsu Inoue, and others.
Deupree dedicates as much time to other people’s music as he does to his own. In 1997 he founded the record label 12k, which since then has released over 100 recordings by some of the most accomplished musicians and modern sound artists of our time.
Deupree continues to evolve his sound with an ambition and drive that is masked by his music’s inherent quietude. He approaches each project with an expectation of new directions, new processes, and new junctures.
Nafasi Yako Ni Ya Kijani (Your Place is Green) (2018)
Nafasi Yako Ni Ya Kijani (Your Place Is Green) centers around a handmade white oak rocking chair that activates sound vessels (speakers) suspended in nearby trees. The sounds are a combination of composed works, field recordings, birdsong, and conversation. The piece is a meditation on absence, specifically that of the artist’s late parents. Kitundu’s mother was an artist and deeply supported his creative endeavors. All bird recordings come from the region in Tanzania where the artist’s late father grew up. Many of them sound remarkably like Caramoor’s resident birds, and the blending of the two worlds is intentional. The piece is a celebration of those relationships, what we leave behind and what we carry forward when our loved ones are no longer here. Nafasi Yako ni ya Kijani (Your Place is Green) was originally commissioned by Montalvo Arts Center.
Kitundu creates kinetic sculptures and sonic installations, develops public works, builds (and performs on) extraordinary musical instruments, while studying and documenting the natural world. He is the inventor of a family of Phonoharps, multi-stringed instruments made from record players that rely on the turntable’s sensitivity to vibration. Kitundu has created hand-built record players driven by the wind and rain, fire and earthquakes, birds, light, and the force of ocean waves. In 2008 he received a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship in recognition of his work and creative potential.
Piano Garden (1969 – 1970 / 2021)
Piano Garden is one of four installations in a series
entitled Piano Transplants. In each piece in the series,
Annea Lockwood positions a piano beyond repair in the natural world and invites the elements to consume it. Audiences are welcome and encouraged to play the piano until environmental forces make it dangerous or
impossible to do so. The score for Piano Garden reads:
Dig a sloping trench and slip an upright piano in sideways so that it is half interred. A small grand piano may be set down amongst bushes etc. Plant fast growing trees and creepers around the pianos. Do not protect against weather and leave the pianos there forever. This installation of Piano Garden is presented in collaboration with ISSUE Project Room, which honored the artist in 2021 with a global staging of Piano Transplants.
Annea Lockwood is known for her explorations of the rich world of natural acoustic sounds and environments. Her sound installation, A Sound Map of the Danube, has been presented in Germany, Austria, and the U.S. Other recent projects include Ceci n’est pas un piano, for piano, video, and electronics, commissioned by Jennifer Hymer;
Jitterbug, commissioned by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, a six-channel soundscape with two improvising musicians; and In Our Name, a collaboration with Thomas Buckner based on poems by prisoners in Guantánamo. Her music has been issued on CD and online on the Lovely Music, Ambitus, EM, XI, Rattle, Lorelt, and Pogus labels.