A Natural: The Atlantic Center for the Arts


I had the great pleasure of serving as a Master Artist at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, FL, from 5/10 – 6/1/13. The Center is the marvelous brainchild of sculptor Doris Leeper and is set in gorgeous natural surroundings, with boardwalks used to connect the buildings.

Boardwalk at the Atlantic Center for the Arts
Boardwalk at the Atlantic Center for the Arts

The staff is terrific too, and I can’t resist a shoutout to the co-directors Jim Frost and  Nancy Lowden Norman; to Nick Conroy, residency and program director; program assistant  Jill Tolson Rox and of course Chef Tom!

The dark green saw palmetto fronds and other dense, dark vegetation made me think I was walking inside a fantastic 3-D animation of an Henri Rousseau painting. There were naturalist touches too, with labels describing the plants and animal life. I remembered to turn left at the sign telling about one of the local insects – the cockroach – So, from my cottage…turn left at ‘cockroach’ to reach the music studio!

What is unique about Doris’s vision is the collaborative focus, and the development of such outstanding facilities. Each master artist chooses eight from among those who apply to work with her/him. I was looking for composers who were exploratory, imaginative and collaborative, and I found them! And what was particularly terrific was not just that they played their instruments so well, and were experimental in their approach, but every single one of them was unstintingly generous with the others. And, I had the good fortune to be at ACA with writer Geoff Dyer and Coco Fuosco as the other Master Artists. Geoff is as wry as he is fun, and Coco is as politically imaginative as she is inspiring. We each gave an evening presentation on our work for the other artist fellows and local community, and I always enjoy sharing with different audiences.

Judith with Geoff Dyer and Coco Fuosco
Judith with Geoff Dyer and Coco Fuosco

The composer fellows, whose websites and/or links I am including so you can find out more about them, included David Bird , Nicole Carroll, Nathan Friedman, Jason H. MitchellMatthew Hough and Eli Stein; our eighth could not join us in the end. While we missed her, we had a terrific time. We met for a couple of hours a day during each of the three weeks. We started by having everyone share their work, and then spent the rest of the time collaboratively exploring our instruments and rehearsing and then performing new pieces. We had an entire concert of music by the fellows in the theatre on May 30, and participated in the final Inside-Out multi-discplinary concert on the last evening, June 1.

The pictures give an idea of some of the pieces: Matthew Houghs’ Eleven Cells,  for Bassoon (2 people) and Clarinet(two people) and live electronics! This led to some intriguing results, and delicate physical maneouvering. Other pieces on the final program included Nine Jewels by David Bird (Cl, Bssn, Gtr, Perc, Electronics); The History of Forgetting, for piano and mixed media; Nathan Friedman’s by turns hilarious, inventive, and delicate Inflationary Purposes for balloons and live processing; Eli Stein’s Transference for live electronics and video; and Nicole Carroll’s Not Idle Noise for cl, bssn, gtr, wdblk, live electronics and fixed media.Jason Mitchell’s collaborative piece, called Artist Must be Final, may be found here.

Daily Meeting with ACA Fellows
Daily Meeting with ACA Fellows

There were also some intriguing cross-disciplinary opportunitis. A couple of us were asked to record the sounds of guns, both empty and in situ at a firing range for Josephina Turalba, an extraordinary Phillipine artist who has made compelling work that uses gun casings. Stephen Holvik, chief instructor for Holvik Arms Training, was tremendously helpful, both in bringing empty guns so we could record the various sounds they make; and enabling those who wished to try shooting at the local firing range. While I held a rifle for the first time, as you can see here, I was not inspired to shoot at the firing range, and am extremely disheartened by the rise of gun violence in the US. While people such as Mr. Holvik are very responsible in all aspects of their handling of guns and training others to use them, unfortunately others are not. Still, I have for some time thought about creating music from the sound of guns as a way of transforming their meaning. One of my recent pieces, For the Fallen, commissioned by Ivano Ascari,  is scored for trumpet (or cello) and electronics made from the Maria Dolens Bell in Rovereto, Italy. Originally made from melted canons from WWI, it is one of the largest ringing bells in the world.  Again, what had been used for violent purposes, could be transformed in a way that leads one to meditate on them.

One never knows in what direction one’s muse or circumstances will lead one! While at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, I completed the first version of my Tape Music, a 5.1 surround-sound piece made from recordings I made of myself ripping, scrunching, cutting and otherwise manipulating all kinds of tape. It is both a meditation on our consumerist society,with the tape on packaging that is just thrown away, to the use of the everyday (still have tape over a rough spot on my car door), to the sonic world that surrounds us that we often don’t really hear. And of course it’s a nod to the ‘tape music’ genre, when electronics were actually recorded on magnetic tape. The genre somehow survives, even if the actual tape does not!



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