SoundWalk Showcases Innovative High School Music Program


10:00am | SoundWalk2010 is taking place this Saturday, October 2nd. In its seventh year, SoundWalk continues to engage and amaze artists and audiences alike.  It is, in my opinion, the best art event in Long Beach, and I heartily encourage you to go.  The event runs from 5 - 10 PM, and extends between 3rd Street and Ocean, and Long Beach Boulevard and Linden.   

The event draws artists from all over the world to share works that, in one way or another, use sound.  Some are site-specific installations, some are sculptural, and some defy easy categorization.  This year, the students of Loyola High School, with guidence and support by Music Appreciation teacher Steven Speciale, had their piece, A City Scene, accepted into the show.  I asked Steven how the piece came together.

Steven: 'A City Scene' is a slightly developed version of an assignment I gave to my music appreciation students.  Originally, my kids were to create intuitive electronic musical instruments.  They were to craft instruments whereby the user could figure out how to effect change based on the interface as well as the sound.

The piece we are bringing to SoundWalk is more of a sculpture.  It is "A City Scene" where objects are placed on a table and sound is emitted from the table.  The soundscapes are from the objects' point of view.  The viewer is invited to "mix" their utopia by placing the objects in a way that is pleasing to them.  By knowing that the sounds come from the objects' point of view, they are forced to think of the "other."

The effect of the piece is kind of magical, I think.  The source of the sound is mysterious.  We place a transducer on the glass table so the table itself becomes the speaker.  There are no obvious speakers around the installation.

Sander: How involved were the students in the conceptual development and implementation of the piece?

Steven: While teaching them the techniques needed to produce the work- ReacTivision, Osculator, Ableton, etc..., I also give them some background in field recording, musique concrete- particularly the work of Pierre Henry, and some of the artistic movements of the 20th century like Futurism- Russolo's Art of Noise manifesto is something we read.  This is all new to them. 

We do work in metaphor, poetry, symbol.  Because it is a music appreciation course, I don't have the time to delve into these things too deeply.  Basically, I set up the technical apparatus, show them some models like David Tudor's Rainforest IV, dissect the model, then have the kids brainstorm their own ideas based on the framework of the model. 

After working on groups, each student produces their own proposal for a piece.  We either anonymously post them on the wall and all of the participating classes choose their favorite proposal or I have small groups of kids select the proposal that most inspires them.

I am the guiding force, and provide the background knowledge for the projects, but the ideas come from the kids.  As an example, for this project, I determined that we would make reactive tables.  I learned how to make them work, but the specific ideas were left to the kids.  I do edit their ideas and try to get them to work things through.  The other tables included an aquarium, mixing parts of several faces together, mixing iconic musicians' music together, and combining cultural items.  My ultimate goal is to get them to think in metaphor, engage their passion, and share something of themselves with the community.

Sander: What does it mean for the kids to see their efforts presented in such a prestegious and internationally respected art event?

Steven: There is a lot of excitement and buzz around the campus about SoundWalk, especially since we have been invited to participate again.  I spoke about SoundWalk with the parents at Back-to-school night.  I think many were surprised that our work would be included in a festival that was not specifically geared towards high schools. 

For most of the kids, I think the Soundwalk experience will be a first for them.  I am very grateful to FLOOD, the local businesses, and anyone else that makes SoundWalk possible.  Not only does it get young people out to experience art in the community, there is nothing to buy! 

The festival is really joyful and inspiring.  It is amazing to see creative and accomplished people in their element.  I also love that the work is presented in every nook and cranny of the neighborhood.  It gives one a heightened sense of discovery!

Sander: In the artist statement you wrote, you spoke of how sound art helps people to eliminate judgment.  Can you explain what you meant by that?

Steven: I believe we are so inundated with sound created to market to us, that many respond to auditory information in predictable and conditioned ways.  From the beeps of the Intel-sound to the amateur fragments that have become church music, I feel people have learned safe responses to sound and music.  Sound art breaks through this installed vocabulary.  To interact with a piece of sound art means abandoning the comfortable ways of istening/responding and taking it in at face value.

I think many are unconscious about how they listen to their environment.  It is a typical response for people to disdain what doesn't come easy.  Because sound-art is ephemeral, partially invisible, and often without language, it is easy for the uninitiated to dismiss it.  Abandoning judgment, for me, is the first step.

Sander: Your background and training are primarily in music.  How did you come to be personally interested in sound art?

Steven: I was a fan of the pianist David Tudor.  I marveled at his recordings of exquisitely knuckle-twisting music.  Somehow, I missed his composing activity.  When Loyola High School made a class-set of iMacs available to me, I began researching electronic music.  I discovered Tudor's many electronic compositions, one of which is at the Getty, Ligeti's 100 Metronomes, John Cage, Lucier's "I Am Sitting in a Room" and Stockhausen.  I also had many informal conversations with my colleague, Dr. Luke Schulze, a great music historian and composer.  He turned me on to a lot of music I'd not heard before.  From there, it was just an extension of my music teaching, and personal performances.

Loyola High School gave me a sabbatical this past Summer to delve deeply into the subject.  I have been teaching myself Pure Data, a music programming language, and I read as much as I could.  I have been particularly influenced by the writings and compositions by DJ Spooky.

I am currently compiling a course reader that weaves Electronic Music/Sound Art into the fabric of music appreciation.  While I have been cultivating sound-art projects for the past 3 years, this is a step towards a more substantial electronic music curriculum.

I am so grateful for everyone that supports what we do.  From Loyola High school, that encourages me to pursue these things, to my students who go out on a limb to try something new, to my wife who tolerates lots of strange electronica and my new gear-obsessions.  Being able to participate in SoundWalk really legitimizes the work these kids do!  It's really important that it continues!

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Watch a great video of A City Scene in action.



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