Are you listening?
When the earth talks: Ground-breaking Hermann Park project brings the sounds of the planet to the surface
What if you could hear the temperature of the air? What if you could perceive what may be happening below the soil underneath your feet? What if the environment could talk?
Writer, architect and experimental artist Abinadi Meza, an assistant professor at the University of Houston who's participating in the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts CounterCurrent Festival, believes Mother Nature may sound something like this:
The material for Meza's sound installation at Hermann Park, titled Vein of Sky, was sourced from microsensors that recorded environmental data from the park's surroundings — light levels, humidity in the air, wind speeds, soil vibrations. The information captured was organized as streams of numbers that he translated into an ambient sound milieu. Vein of Sky isn't designed to be understood literally, but rather as a symbolic backdrop that encourages listeners to feel the atmosphere around them differently.
"I hope that visitors have a shift in perception in regards to the immediate natural environment, that they form a poetic relationship with it and that they leave with a different sense of the atmosphere around them."
"Humans can't hear light, we can't hear tremors in the soil, we can't hear the movements of plants," Meza explains. "I wanted to tap into this invisible skin and offer visitors the means to experience the environment in a way that's generally not perceptible."
Vein of Sky, on view through March 2015, is housed at an open-air, solar-powered sculpture that illustrates the fundamentals of sustainable architecture and design. ReFRAME x FRAME — a project led by LEED architect and UH Graduate Design/Build Studio director Patrick Peters with support from graduate students from the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture — is crafted from steel and repurposed office furniture as a temporary shelter suitable for the aftermath of natural disasters. The micro pavilion is part of Hermann Park's centennial public art project, Art in the Park.
The installation is located on the banks of McGovern Lake, near the Pinewood Cafe.
Meza responded to the spirit of ReFRAME x FRAME and Hermann Park by coding his collected data into a piece that's triggered when someone enters the space. Vein of Sky begins with simple electronic language that randomly increases in complexity and intensity the longer a visitor interacts with the temporary pavilion. With the help of a graduate student, Meza formulated software to automate the execution of his experimental installation.
"The authorship in my role as the composer and sound artist comes in rephrasing the supply of data to express it in a sensory way," he says. "Although I could have mapped the numbers as pixels on a screen, I found sound to be a better conduit for this investigation."
Meza considers the genre of sound to be spatially enveloping. Sound demands a visceral reaction that stirs the imagination into fantastical imagery. To work with sound isn't to bypass a visual element, but rather to enhance it.
"I hope that visitors have a shift in perception in regards to the immediate natural environment, that they form a poetic relationship with it and that they leave with a different sense of the atmosphere around them," he says.