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

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

John Luther Adams' The Wind Garden

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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.

Photo caption:

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.

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.

Photo caption:

Photo by 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.”

Photo caption:

Photo by 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.

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Beth Accomando
Arts & Culture Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover arts and culture, from Comic-Con to opera, from pop entertainment to fine art, from zombies to Shakespeare. I am interested in going behind the scenes to explore the creative process; seeing how pop culture reflects social issues; and providing a context for art and entertainment.

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