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John Luther Adams' 'The Wind Garden' Challenges Expectations On What Art Is

The opening of the audio installation The Wind Garden in the grove next to the Mandell Weiss Theatre on the UC San Diego campus. Aug. 7, 2017.
The opening of the audio installation The Wind Garden in the grove next to the Mandell Weiss Theatre on the UC San Diego campus. Aug. 7, 2017.

The audio installation is the 19th addition to The Stuart Collection at UCSD

John Luther Adams' The Wind Garden
John Luther Adams' 'The Wind Garden' Challenges Expectations On What Art Is
John Luther Adams' 'The Wind Garden' Challenges Expectations On What Art Is GUESTS: John Luther Adams, composer/artist, The Wind Garden Beth Accomando, KPBS arts reporter

WE ARE IN THE WIND GARDEN, A SMALL STAND OF EUCALYPT HISTORIES. WHAT I AM TOLD IS CALLED THE THEATER DISTRICT, AT THE CAMPUS OF UCSD. WHAT APPEALED TO YOU ABOUT PICKING THE SPACE? I DON'T REMEMBER HOW MANY YEARS AGO BUT I WANT TO SAY 7-8 YEARS AGO, I HEARD FROM MARY, THE CURATOR AND VISION LATER BEHIND THE STEWART COLLECTION. SHE ASKED IF I WOULD BE INTERESTED IN CREATE -- CREATING A NEW PIECE. I SAID YES AND I CAME DOWN FOR A VISIT FOR MY FIRST OF NOW UNCOUNTABLE VISITS. OVER THE YEARS, MARY AND MATTHEW GREGOIRE AND MYSELF LOOKED AT A NUMBER OF DIFFERENT SITES AROUND THE CAMPUS. INCLUDING SEVERAL SMALLER SITES HERE IN THE THEATER DISTRICT. I SETTLED ON THIS ONE, THERE WAS SOMETHING ABOUT THESE TREES ON THE SITE, THIS LOVELY VIEW OF THE PACIFIC AND THE WIND WHEN IT COMES UP EVERY AFTERNOON AND PASSES THROUGH, THAT APPEALED TO ME. THE NEIGHBORHOOD WAS ALSO RECEPTIVE, THAT IS TO SAY THE PEOPLE WHO WORK HERE IN THESE 33 YEARS. THEY WERE SUPPORTIVE AND SEEM TO GET IT AND EMBRACE THE IDEA THAT THIS WOULD BECOME PART OF THEIR COMMUNITY. SO HERE WE ARE. EXPLAINED TO ME WHAT THE CONCEPT -- EXPLAIN TO ME WHAT THE CONCEPT WAS? THIS IS A COMPLEX PROJECT, WITH A LOT OF TECHNOLOGY BEHIND IT, THERE ARE COMPUTERS, AMPLIFIERS, LOUDSPEAKERS AND SUBWOOFER SPEAKERS, BURIED CABLES, WIND SENSORS, LOCAL AREA NETWORKS, BENCHES, DECOMPOSED GRAVEL PATHS, LANDSCAPING. ALL THIS, AND YET I HOPE WHEN YOU COME AND EXPERIENCE THIS ALL THAT WILL BE INVISIBLE. IT WILL JUST BE YOU LISTENING IN THIS PLACE. IN A WAY, I WANT ALL THE WORK TO DISAPPEAR. THE FUNDAMENTAL CONCEPT OF THE PEACE IS A PLACE, A GARDEN WHERE WE CAN SIT AND SLOW DOWN AND LISTEN TO WHERE WE ARE. AND IN THIS CASE, THIS BEAUTIFUL LITTLE GROVE OF EUCALYPTUS OVERLOOKING THE PACIFIC. YOU MIGHT LOOK AT THIS AS CREATING A BIG WIND HARP THAT YOU CAN WALK THROUGH, BE INSIDE OF, YOU CAN SIT AND SETTLE IN INSIDE THIS BIG INSTRUMENT AND HEAR THE MUSIC OF THESE TREES AS THEY DANCE IN THE WIND. WE ARE ACTUALLY HEARING A LITTLE BIT OF THE SOUNDSCAPE IT IS CREATING. THIS IS WHAT WE THINK IT SOUNDS LIKE, AT THIS POINT IN THE PROCESS OF DISCOVERY. TALK ABOUT THE DIFFERENT KIND OF SOUND ELEMENTS PEOPLE ARE HEARING, DOES THE WIND ITSELF CREATE SOME OF THE MUSIC, IS THERE MUSIC YOU COMPOSE PART OF THIS? I AM A COMPOSER AND EVEN WHEN I DO SOMETHING LIKE THIS, IT'S MORE OF A SCULPTURAL PROJECT. I STILL THINK LIKE A COMPOSER. THAT IS JUST HOW AND WHAT I DO, WHAT I'VE DONE ALL MY LIFE AND HOW I UNDERSTAND THE WORLD. THIS IS A MUSICAL COMPOSITION IN THE FORM OF A GARDEN. EVERYTHING IS COMPOSED, BUT IT IS NOT PLAYED BY HUMAN MUSICIANS, IT IS PLAYED BY THE LAND AND IT'S NOT HEARD INSIDE OF THE CONCERT HALL, IT IS OUTSIDE IN THE REAL WORLD. SO, WE CAN TAKE THE SAME SOUNDS, THESE LOUDSPEAKERS AND PUT IT INDOORS IN A CHURCH OR SOMEPLACE OF EQUAL VOLUME AND IT WOULD SOUND VERY DIFFERENT. HERE WE HAVE NOT ONLY THE SOUNDS OF THE TRAFFIC OUT THERE, HUMAN VOICES ON THE PERIPHERY OF THE GARDEN, BUT WE ALSO HAVE THE WIND ITSELF, THE LEAVES MOVING IN THE TREES, AND OUR LOUDSPEAKERS ARE MOUNTED ON BRANCHES OF THESE TREES. SO, THEY ACTUALLY MOVE. IF YOU MIGHT IMAGINE THE SPEAKERS AS SINGERS OR MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS, AS THEY SANG, AS THEY PLAY THEY ARE MOVING WHICH DOES BEAUTIFUL THINGS TO ANIMATE THE SOUND. ANY TIME YOU COME THROUGH THIS, IT WILL BE DIFFERENT. IT IS ALWAYS DIFFERENT, THERE ARE NO -- THIS PIECE WILL NEVER LITERALLY REPEAT ITSELF. THERE ARE CYCLES WITHIN IT, BUT IT IS INEXTRICABLY TIED TO THE REAL WORLD BECAUSE IT EXISTS IN THE REAL WORLD AND BECAUSE IT IS CONTROLLED BY WIND, THE MOVEMENT OF THESE TREES. IN REAL-TIME, IN THE REAL WORLD. ALTHOUGH IT RECYCLES AND FOLLOWS THE MOVEMENTS OF THE SUN, THROUGHOUT THE YEAR, THE SEASONS, THIS TIME ON THE STATE WILL SOUND DIFFERENT -- DATE WILL SOUND DIFFERENT THAN THIS TIME, THIS DATE NEXT YEAR. SO, YOUR HOPE IS, THE WORK YOU HAVE PUT IN. IS THERE THE CHANCE THAT PEOPLE COMING THROUGH HERE MAY NOT EVEN ACKNOWLEDGE THAT WHAT THEY ARE WALKING THROUGH IS A PIECE OF ART? ABSOLUTELY, WE WANT TO BE ON THE THRESHOLD OF PERCEPTION. ESPECIALLY SOMEONE WALKING BY ON THE OUTSIDE, GOING FROM ONE APPOINTMENT TO THE NEXT IN A HURRY, MAY NOT OR MAY REGISTER THEY HEARD SOMETHING BUT KEEP GOING. ANOTHER PERSON MAY JUST BE MORE RECEPTIVE TO THE MOMENT, AND MAKE IT DRAWN AND. THAT WOULD BE A LOVELY THING. THE ACCIDENTAL PASSERBY, THE DISCOVERY OF THIS PLACE. WHAT A WONDERFUL THING. BUT IT'S NOT A STATEMENT, IT'S AN INVITATION TO LISTEN. SO, IT REQUIRES YOUR ACTIVE ENGAGEMENT AND YOUR WILLINGNESS TO PAY ATTENTION. IT'S ABOUT WHERE WE ARE, IT'S ABOUT THE NEVER-ENDING MUSIC OF THE WORLD, AND HEARING MORE BROADLY AND DEEPLY ABOUT WHERE WE ARE AND HOW WE FIT INTO THE WORLD. BUT, I THINK IT'S ENTIRELY POSSIBLE THAT SOMEONE MIGHT WALK BY THIS PIECE AND NOT REGISTER. I THINK WALKING THROUGH, YOU WOULD HAVE TO BE DISTRACTED NOT TO NOTICE. I WANTED TO BE ON THAT THRESHOLD, IT'S A COUNTERPOINT BETWEEN THE COMPOSED PIECE AND THE MUSIC OF THE WORLD. THE WIND GARDEN IS THE 19th PUBLIC ART WORK OF THE STEWART COLLECTION. YOU JUST HEARD BETH, AMANDO SPEAK WITH JON LUTHER ADAMS ABOUT HIS IMMERSIVE ART EXHIBIT. THE WIND GARDEN IS LOCATED IN A GROWTH WEST OF THE THEATER, AND IS OPEN 24 SEVEN.

John Luther Adams' 'The Wind Garden' Challenges Expectations On What Art Is
On Monday, composer John Luther Adams’ officially opened "The Wind Garden" at UC San Diego. Think of it as a kind of living wind chime made up of eucalyptus trees that have been fitted with motion and light sensors that translate varying forces of wind and changing light patterns into sound instantaneously using sophisticated software.

On Monday, composer John Luther Adams’ officially opened "The Wind Garden" at UC San Diego. Think of it as a kind of living wind chime made up of eucalyptus trees that have been fitted with motion and light sensors that translate varying forces of wind and changing light patterns into sound instantaneously using sophisticated software.

"The Wind Garden" has been years in the making. It is the 19th public artwork added to the renowned Stuart Collection. The collection is completely funded by private donations, including support from the Friends of the Stuart Collection, and not from UC San Diego.

Mary Beebe has been overseeing the Collection for three decades.

“What I like about the Stuart Collection is that you don’t run into it with a museum frame of mind, you just happen upon the works,” Beebe said. “Each is a completely different kind of experience, like a treasure hunt.”

"The Wind Garden" is the first audio-only installation in the collection. Terry Allen’s "Trees" took two trees and preserved and encased them in skins of lead so they stand like ghosts within a eucalyptus grove between the Geisel Library and the Faculty Club. The trees also use sound as one emits a series of recorded songs and the other a sequence of poems and stories created and arranged specifically for the project.

Adams, a Pulitzer-Prize winning composer, created "The Wind Garden" in a grove west of the Mandel Weiss Theater. Some may walk through the trees and barely hear music coming from the tress around them. But others will walk through the grove and notice the enticing soundscape coming from the trees. It sounds like bells softly trilling mixed in with the sound of wind through leaves.

What excited Adams about the project is that it is a living work that changes based on time of day and time of year.

“The thing is alive. It’s thrilling to me,” Adams said. “Each person will have a unique experience each time they go through.”

After working years on the project, Adams insisted that he wanted all the physical aspects -- the speakers, motion sensors, computers – to disappear so that the installation is essentially invisible to the person experiencing it.

Key members of the creative team behind The Wind Garden: Jason Ponce, Jem Altieri, and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams at the installation opening. Aug. 7, 2017.
Beth Accomando
Key members of the creative team behind The Wind Garden: Jason Ponce, Jem Altieri, and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams at the installation opening. Aug. 7, 2017.

But it took a team of composers, electronics engineers, arborists and data designers to bring the piece to life.

Adams has created sonic installations for the past 12 years and nature has been a driving influence since the beginning. In 2014, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music for his work, “Become Ocean,” an orchestra that addressed the effects of global warming and our changing earth.

In the press release Adams said: “Music is not what I do, it’s how I understand the world—and for me, the whole world is music. As a composer, it’s my belief that music can contribute to the awakening of our ecological understanding. By deepening our connections to the earth, music can provide a sounding model for the renewal of human consciousness and culture.”

What you don't see: A map of some of the technology used to bring the sounds of The Wind Garden to life. Aug. 7, 2017.
Beth Accomando
What you don't see: A map of some of the technology used to bring the sounds of The Wind Garden to life. Aug. 7, 2017.

The Stuart Collection can be found all over the 1,200-acre UC San Diego campus. It includes works by Robert Irwin, Niki de Saint Phalle, Bruce Nauman and Kiki Smith. Most of the works are available to view and experience at any time and visitors can take a free, self-guided tour almost anytime of the year.