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UB-affiliated group reimagines the nature of music

Artists in the "Place" performance at Silo City use their instruments to produce sound in a different way.

By SUE WUETCHER

Published June 30, 2017

“This work aims to build on and enrich the sonic tapestries already happening in a place.”
Colin Tucker, UB PhD candidate and founding curator
Null Point

Start with “Place,” a large-scale, site-specific sound work created in 1975 by pioneering composer David Dunn. Then add two iconic locations from Western New York — Artpark and Silo City. The result is the first installment of “In Place,” an initiative for site-specific sound launched this summer by the UB-infused Null Point experimental arts and sound enterprise.

A performance of “Place” on July 16 at Artpark — and one earlier this month at Silo City — are the first in what Null Point founding curator Colin Tucker and assistant curator Ethan Hayden say is a long-term effort to produce cutting-edge sound works “that take attributes of particular locations as points of departure.”

Null Point has a decidedly UB bent: Tucker is a PhD candidate in music composition; Hayden received his PhD in composition from UB in 2016.

Performing in what the curators are calling the “overdue world premiere” of “Place” are Leanne Darling, an adjunct lecturer in viola; Zane Merritt, a PhD alumnus in composition; Jessie Downs, a PhD student in composition; Bob Fullex, an MM/BM alumnus in percussion; Jonathan Hepfer, an undergraduate alumnus in percussion who has served as a guest artist in the Department of Music; and Julia Cordani, a BM student in voice, as well as Tucker and Hayden. “Place” also is supported by the UB Department of Music.

Vocalists at Silo City produce loud, non-verbal vocal sounds in an attempt to trigger resonances in the environment.

“Place” uses voices, instruments, electronics, bodies and materials found on site “to build a musical language in dialogue with a particular place’s soundscape, ecosystem and topography,” Tucker explains. And due to the work’s “interactive, responsive nature,” as well as the contrasting soundscapes of the two locations — birds and mammals, humans, rivers, waterfalls, wind, distant traffic, boats, industrial fans — the upcoming performance at Artpark will be vastly different from the one at Silo City, he notes.

“Sound becomes a catalyst for a heightened awareness of location,” Tucker says. “This work aims to build on and enrich the sonic tapestries already happening in a place.”

A press release describes the project in detail:

Performers use a microphone to record the ambient sounds of the  environment at Silo City.

“In ‘Place,’ electronics record and play back ambient sounds, voices and instruments trigger acoustic resonances in the local environment, instruments imitate ambient sounds in real time, and materials found on site sonically activate instruments in structured improvisations. These techniques blur distinctions between musical and environmental sounds, reimagining the very nature of music and challenging divisions between nature and culture.”

The performance takes place over seven hours — from early afternoon to sundown. Audience members can come and go throughout the event, and are free to experience the performance in their own way. Have a picnic, the curators suggest. Bring a chair and relax; wander around the site. While the experience is cutting-edge — fundamentally reimagining what music is — it is also accessible, they say, requiring participants only to be attentive and keep an open mind while listening.

The performance at Artpark, which is free and open to the public, runs from 2-8:45 p.m. The rain date is Aug. 13. Audience members can join in the final section of the 10-part performance, which will begin around 8:15 p.m., by producing their own sounds with materials found at the site. No previous musical experience is required.

Leanne Darling and Zane Merritt hold loudspeakers, which are playing amplified white noise, as they slowly walk through one of the grain elevators at Silo City.

“In Place” is just the latest project of Null Point, founded in 2014 by Tucker to produce experimental sound projects for spaces other than concert halls that focus on works by emerging artists. Other Null Point projects include “Surfaces,” a project at last year’s Echo Art Fair that turned disintegrating floors of the Buffalo Gear and Axle Plant into instruments, and “Decay-Reverberate,” a four-day event held in 2015 in Silo City featuring new performances and installations created specifically for the space by local, national and international emerging artists.

“In Place” also marks the debut of Null Point’s own large ensemble of performers, featuring faculty and graduate students from UB and other local colleges and universities, as well as renowned experimental music performers from outside Western New York.