During my residency, I offered visitors two different ways to feel connected to an instrument while listening from inside the sound: The Overtone Crown, and the Somatic Percussion Station.
“The whole thing starts shimmering.”
The Overtone Crown is a wearable instrument. It’s a helmet with eight tuning forks radiating out from it. I play it with a violin bow as the listener wears it on their head. As I play the crown, the listener looks at my drawing called The Auracle. This is a life-size piece which both visualizes the sonic experience of the Crown, and serves as a mirror for the listener. Here are some reactions to this experience recorded over the course of the month.
“I felt like a personified mountain.”
I also offered visitors the opportunity to feel connected to an instrument using a somatic percussion station. The listener sits with a floor tom against their legs, a tibetan bowl at their feet, and two cymbals right next to their ears. Very low overtones are audible from the cymbals only at this close range. As the listener holds the cymbal stands with their hands, I play the instruments quietly with soft mallets. The listener hears not just through the ears, but through the skin and bone conduction as well. They are surrounded by sound and centered in the musical experience. Here are some reactions to this experience recorded over the course of the month, beginning with a man who is deaf in one ear.
Photos by Robbie Sweeny.
On June 19th, a fantastic ensemble of musicians joined me for a few rounds of my improvisational game piece, Raw Shack. This was a special Friday night event in the Kimball Gallery. In Raw Shack, I use a variety of cards to cue the musicians, and they interpret the cards however they wish. During my residency, I created a bunch of new cards (UNDERWATER, Play well with others, LOOPING, etc.) which were premiered at this performance.
Shireen Amini: guitar, melodica, vocals
Sheila Bosco: keyboard
Fountainetta Coleman: percussion
Katja Davis: vocals, percussion
Ayla Xander Dozier: vocals, percussion
Tina Fagnani: drums
Altay Guvench: bass guitar
Gregory Hagan: viola, vocals
Josh Marshall: saxophone
Scott Roy: accordion
Bill Wolter: guitar
Shawn Feeney’s Musical Anatomy series creates a dialogue between the body and musical instruments. Through the Somatic Sound Station, museum visitors experience sound in a new and intimate way as they feel, not just hear, the drums and symbols around them.
One visitor described his reaction to the Somatic Sound Station as feeling like a personified mountain. He recounts a vivid image of “earth gods rumbling through the valley” that depicts the reverberations of the percussion instruments. Interestingly, experiencing the powerful percussion sounds also brought back memories and emotions for the visitor who was reminded of childhood trips to Hawaii and the saying, “The mountains are angry.”
“I just felt like I was bigger than this body, I was all-encompassing,” he concludes.
To hear more reactions to Shawn Feeney’s work, stay tuned for future posts. In the meantime, learn about Shawn Feeney’s interactive piece the Overtone Crown through this previous post.
On Friday, June 12, a group of incredible musicians joined me in the Kimball Gallery for an event called “Music Inspired by Art.” Presentations and performances were given throughout the space, each one corresponding to a different Musical Anatomy work.
Composer Gabriela Lena Frank set up in front of “Ira Arca,” a drawing she commissioned from me. At the keyboard, she gave us a musical tour of the Andes. We then discussed our process for creating “Ira Arca” (see this previous post for more details).
Guitarists Bill Wolter (of Inner Ear Brigade) and Wally Scharold (of miRthkon) set up in front of my “Ocarinose” drawing. They played Wally’s two-guitar arrangement of Frank Zappa’s exceptionally difficult “Bebop Tango,” with a bit of Zappa’s “Eat That Question” in the middle.
Eli Sharf sat in front of my drawing “Dzavadzimouth” and presented the instrument it is inspired by, the mbira dzavadzimu. Usually performed by two people, he played both parts of “Nhema Musasa” for us. Eli is studying with mbira.org, the non-profit organization devoted to Shona mbira music.
Scott Roy stood in front of “Astor & Pollux,” my drawing inspired by tango composer Astor Piazzolla, and discussed the differences between bandoneon and accordion. In honor of the recently deceased Ornette Coleman, he played a tango-esque version of “Lonely Woman.”
To close out the evening, Bill and Scott joined me in performing Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” in front of my drawing of the same title.
It was a wonderful event, and I’m grateful for all the musicians who performed!
I recently completed this musical anatomy mural in the Kimball Gallery facing the museum’s windows. It’s high contrast black and white so that it can be seen from outside (the windows are somewhat tinted). The medium is black acrylic paint, although the style is similar to my pen & ink technique. I drew the basic design on the wall freehand in pencil, and then painted over it.
In-progress photos of the mural:
The mural will be up through the end of June.
Last Friday, June 12, artist-in-residence Shawn Feeney conducted an evening in which visitors witnessed the crossroads of his work with live music through a series of performances. His first guest, Gabriela Lena Frank, is a Peruvian piano player and composer who commissioned his piece, Ira Arca.
She revealed how her multiracial background impacted her understanding of music. Born of a Peruvian mother and growing up as a child in Berkeley in the 80s, Gabriela gained a deeper connection to her roots through music. She was immersed in musical settings, and trained in classical music learning compositions of the masters, such as Beethoven. When she began going to music concerts of Andean artists, for the first time she saw people that resembled her mother. In addition, Gabriela observed the differences in the instruments’ appearances and the distinct ways in which melodies emerged from them. She was most struck by the charango player, who moved with the instrument as though they were conjoined to create the charango’s sound. This experience influenced her own music making, as she played the piano in an effort to embody the energy of the Andean musicians. She “latinized” the traditional way of playing the piano and learned to manipulate its keys in ways that paralleled a number of Andean cultures. Before Feeney’s guests, Gabriela pinpointed the versatility of notes and how the sounds resonate differently from the piano. As she struck the keys, the room filled with a variety of rich tones, each connected to a different Andean culture. Through her performance, the audience viewed the life that’s breathed into instruments and noted the physicality that becomes present through sound. Just as Feeney translates musical anatomy in his piece Ira Arca, Gabriela thinks of the body fusing with an instrument; they merge together to create a certain seamlessness. This night gave us a taste of what is to come in Feeney’s future gallery performances and sparked our interest in understanding the intricacies of the musical anatomy.
On Friday, June 5, musicians & sound artists Elise Youssoufian, Gregory Hagan, Tasya Herskovits, Robert Usher, Loriel Starr, María Fernanda Valecillos Felice, and Maureen Sansburn created a peaceful soundscape for gallery visitors to wade in. Coming from Wilsey Court, where DJ Lamont spun the funky rhythms and feel good tunes of the 70s and early 80s, the door to the Kimball Education Gallery became the portal to a tranquil space where sound and vision merged through the melodies, rings, and beats of singing bowls, overtone singing, shruti box, tuning forks, and more.
The Auracle is a 30×40” charcoal and graphite drawing on watercolor board. It is a companion piece to my wearable tuning fork instrument, the Overtone Crown. The figure in the drawing is life-size and so can function as a kind of mirror to the viewer-listener. The title is a combination of the words “auricle” (the anatomical term for the outer ear) and “oracle” (a person or place which offers wisdom, hidden knowledge, or divine communication).
I sketched the initial ideas for these pieces in my notebook during my Sound, Voice, and Music Healing classes at the California Institute of Integral Studies.
I scanned in and refined the sketch on the computer to serve as my guide for drawing.
Overlaying a one-inch grid on the mockup, I transferred the sketch to the watercolor board.
Drawing in progress, a combination of realistic anatomy and symbolic forms.
Laying in charcoal for the darkest forms. The larger outlines of the ears represent an expansive sense of listening.
Dashed lines from the ears indicate intentional, directed listening.
The dotted circles are visualizations of sound emanating from the forks, throat, and heartbeat.
A looping form connects the eyes and the ears, implying the connection between sight and sound.
A time-lapse of the rendering process.
The Auracle and the Overtone Crown available this month in the Kimball Gallery at the de Young. My intention with these pieces is to give the viewer-listener the experience of being enveloped in music played live by a performer, while using the visual art as a tool for contemplation, reflection, and imaginative journeying.
The Overtone Crown is a wearable instrument. It is made from a modified bicycle helmet and holds eight tuning forks. The listener wears the Crown as the player resonates the forks with a bow. This creates a stereophonic field of shimmering overtones around the listener’s head.
The Overtone Crown uses an octave’s worth of Biosonics tuning forks (C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C) in Pythagorean tuning. When bowed, the third harmonic of each fork resonates most strongly, so it sounds as a G major scale. The forks can easily be switched out for different scales and tunings.
To create the Overtone Crown, I filled the top seven air holes of the helmet with silicone in order to flexibly hold the tuning forks in place. The silicone was covered in shaped polymer clay and epoxy, which was then sanded down. I also drilled an additional hole in the front of the helmet to hold an eighth fork, an octave higher than the central top fork.
I brushed on base layers of silver acrylic paint and transparent acrylic medium. Then thin coats of chrome spray paint were applied.
The Overtone Crown is a companion piece to my drawing, The Auracle. This drawing is a visualization of the resonances from the Crown and how they may connect with the listener’s body. Opportunities to experience the Overtone Crown and the Auracle will be available during my residency at the de Young.