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LCD ecosystem

“Improvising Ecosystems” project to bring the rhythm of nature to campus

A group of graduate students, faculty and staff from the University of Minnesota’s School of Music and art department looked out of place equipped with boom microphones in the forest.

“I wanted to record the sound of people walking,” Ph.D. composition student Sam Krahn said. “It was the sound of the bog.”

Krahn was talking about his work in the first of the “Improvised Ecosystems” projects, “Sounds and Visions of Cedar Creek.”

“Sounds and Visions” is an evening of improvised music, visual art and sound design. Audiences will enter the Learning and Environmental Sciences Building on the University’s St. Paul campus and encounter a group of improvising musicians.

Both observers and performers are encouraged to wander through the space and stop at “stations” along the way. There are tiny “micro cinemas” on video players that audience members can hold in their hands for a visual example of what the group experienced at Cedar Creek, along with a room lined with speakers playing natural sounds from the environment.

The School of Music got a grant last semester from the University Institute on the Environment and used it to buy recording equipment and fund a trip to the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve in East Bethel, Minn. On the trip, students and University employees learned about the science and subtleties behind the 5,400-acre habitat and used their observations as inspiration to create art.

Maja Radovanlija, a University guitar instructor, is one of the main facilitators of “Sounds and Visions.”

“We made it a habit to wake up early and go out on the reserve,” she said. “One of my favorite moments was following two cranes through the fields and waiting in the tall grass — they flew over our heads and made this incredible sound.”

The group gathered both natural sounds and sounds they created in the space. Krahn’s footstep recordings became an integral part of the piece they created.

“We set the microphones at ground level to try and put the listener there,” he said.

Diane Willow, a faculty member in the University’s art department, works primarily in what she calls “experiential art” and encouraged Krahn to involve audience members as participants. She filmed scenes in the shrubbery, fields and waters of Cedar Creek to create the micro cinemas for the performance.

“I thought it would be more interesting to try an intimate approach,” she said. “What if the video could be cradled or passed along by the audience?”

The performance itself is still being developed and may change when the group presents Thursday.

“The improvisation is exciting to me,” Krahn said. “It kind of reflects some of the observations we had about Cedar Creek and how naturally components of that environment flow with one another.”

Radovanlija emphasized that the work is about process. It’s only one part of the “Improvised Ecosystems” project — the group was just awarded another grant to study forests in Cloquet, Minn.

“We don’t intend to send a clear message or make an argument,” Radovanlija said. “We want to show that it’s important for people to collaborate with nature.”


What: “Sounds and Visions of Cedar Creek”
When: 5:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Learning and Environmental Sciences Building, 1954 Buford Ave., St. Paul
Cost: Free


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