Joshua Sadinsky, “Music and Nature: The Importance of Listening and Conservation”

This installation can be seen/heard in the basement atrium of Lincoln Hall through Tuesday, May 23rd.


The purpose of this sound installation is to emphasize the importance of listening in a world where natural soundscapes are increasingly becoming extinct. For this project, I have chosen to use Honey Locust seed pods to act as resonant bodies. As observed by Ryan McCullough, “the honey locust pods contain seeds, the tree’s source of power to self-replicate and create infinite reiterations of itself, each generation slightly stronger and better suited to its surroundings.” I therefor found it fitting that they be used, not only for their fascinating sonic properties, but also for this life metaphor.

The pods are suspended from a wooden frame so that when the listener enters the installation, the aerial view becomes a fermata The fermata in music indicates a long pause. In this case, I invite the listener to enter the installation and pause for a while to listen. Fastened to each individual pod is a small transducer through which sounds are being played and transduced through the pods.

The sounds that I have chosen are a combination of natural and studio recorded sounds:

  1. The creaking sound comes from a prior installation where I bowed twine and used a staircase as a resonant body. This sound strongly resembles creaking trees. To me, this sound is quite melancholic. Trees that bend and creak feel sad to me, just as habitat destruction and deforestation is.
  2. The sound of running water was recorded at a little creek on Cornell campus. It is dichotomously pure sounding, but also in the source recording one can hear the low frequencies of building and traffic hum in the distance.
  3. The sound of the spring peeper frogs is borrowed from Soren Malpass’s project. They were recorded at the Ringwood Nature Preserve. Human noise pollution poses significant danger to creatures as they rely on sound for survival.
  4. The sound of the trickling burbling water was recorded at the same creek at Cornell, but the water was close mic’d.
  5. The sound of the crashing waterfall was recorded at the Sweedler Nature Preserve at Lick Brook. Right after a heavy rain, this waterfall was surging. Recorded during a nature walk with Ithaca College graduate Matthew Mikkelsen who also co-directed a documentary titled Being Hear, featuring Gordon Hempton.
  6. The sound of the rattling seed pod was recorded in a studio.
  7. The final sound is of a dawn chorus recorded around 6am during a canoe paddle on Cayuga Lake with my friend Arielle. As the sun rises, a symphony of birds and other critters greet the morning.

The sonic explorations of this study deal with feedback as pioneered by Alvin Lucier in his composition “I am Sitting in a Room”. In order to make playback through the Honey Locust pods feasibly audible, I iterated a feedback loop of sound through the pod so as to enhance the inherent resonant frequencies of the pod. This is in effect accomplishing amplification through feedback.

My work is also inspired by acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton. His work involves ecological conservation in Olympic National park. The philosophy behind his “One-Square-Inch of Silence” project is in effect maximizing natural silence, e.g. absence of human noise pollution, through the conservation of protected land in the Hoh rainforest.

I have chosen 7 pods because of its biblical nature. In the Jewish faith, the number 7 symbolizes completion. Likewise, I would like this project to represent a state of stasis, a balance between the listener and the installation, or human and nature.  

Ultimately, this project is an explorative and immersive process. I would like the installation to have a soothing effect, just as the effect of being in the natural world is regenerative. This idea touches on our tendency as humans to consider ourselves as separate from nature. In reality, we depend on the natural environment, and we are thus responsible for stewardship of the natural world. The difficulty arises when we neglect the importance of listening. When we open our ears, we in turn open our hearts. We have the power to make a positive lasting impact by listening carefully to the noise we make, and acting to minimize noise pollution. Thus, through deep listening, we can foster ecological conservation.

Some pictures of the messy construction process!

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