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Earthsong: Soundscape

Aug 18 2019



By Shiriel Abramson

Hometown: Tiburon, CA
Summer Research Assistant, Bill Lane Center for the American West

Out West Student Blog

Student Blog



I am spending the summer choreographing a four-part suite of tap dances that captures the sonic richness of the natural elements––earth, air, fire, and water. The suite will celebrate the natural environment by simulating, interpreting, and riffing on the sounds of the Stanford campus and the surrounding area. By physicalizing environmental phenomena, I hope to illuminate patterns of nature in the West that often go unnoticed in daily life. By embodying the joyfulness with which humans can connect to the environment, I hope to provide an antidote to cynical reports of climate change that inadvertently absolve humans of their responsibility to act. My performance thus aims to offer a counternarrative to incessant media messaging that casts the environment as a helpless victim of overconsumption. As I ground my piece in Bay Area sonic landscapes, I hope to capitalize on the power of locality to engage my audience in processing their existing associations with the region through a more hopeful lens.

I ran several days a week this summer to stay in shape and to expose my ears to nature sounds. I find jogging an efficient way to explore a new environment and build the stamina I need to choreograph, practice, and perform. Unfortunately, these frequent runs shocked my body, and I injured my ankle several days after writing my last post. When I saw a doctor, he recommended I avoid dancing for 4-6 weeks, so I’ve had to put the choreography on pause as my ankle heals. Instead I am scatting rhythms with voice and drumming on my thighs. As I experiment with other forms of rhythmic play, I have been working on my soundscore.

I am using an audio-editing software called Hindenburg to experiment with different sound dynamics. It’s a non-destructive software I originally used to create podcasts for a course I took in winter, Your American Life. “Non-destructive” means I can edit without fear of deleting something good. (If I want it back later, I just drag the clip back to its original shape, and I can try again.) “Podcast” means that I can think of my score as a polyvocal meandering into the wilderness. Whose voices are heard, and whose voices are in the background? When will the wind chime take a solo, and when will the Steller's jay enter the scene? These are the questions I am often considering, and they are enabled by the highly intuitive nature of Hindenburg. I am enjoying the process, smooth and delightful. 

The soundscore begins with birdsong. It meanders into hushed stream water, then shifts into a stronger fountain pour. “Earth,” “wind,” and “water” sounds are enmeshed in one another, so my thematic arc features subtle shifts rather than isolated vignettes, as I once imagined. I am still playing with the sonic possibilities for fire -- how do I capture the ferocity of a largely silent roar?



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