The National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America Debuts at Carnegie Hall

Sonic Delights Festival at Caramoor

by Robert Leeper

Rainforest IV
Rainforest IV Photo credit: John Driscoll

Most trips to the Caramoor estate in bucolic Katonah, New York end with a charming Italian Opera, chamber music, or maybe some jazz. One thing you wouldn't expect to hear is progressive sound art—but Stephen Moore, curator and artistic director of Caramoor's inaugural Garden of Sonic Delights aims to change that. Through November 2nd, the 90 acre campus features over 10 site-specific artworks, providing curious listeners the opportunity to linger among the leafy scenery so often neglected by those who attend only for a specific concert.

The long term installations are all Caramoor commissions, giving the artists a chance to create specifically for the space. Stephen Vitiello’s “You are the Sweet Spot” programs recordings of guitar and synthesizer drones that harmonize with the interior of the Italian Pavilion. The resulting effect is a heightened sense of pitch, echoing slightly and seeming to follow you around the space.

Betsey Biggs lets visitors compose their own, nonlinear piece by walking through her “Sunken Garden.” Electromagnetic waves given off by induction loops hidden beneath the surface of the garden are picked up by a monitor and transmitted to headphones given to each participant who enters. The loops slide into one another, overlapping and swirling—the experience is akin to exploring some underwater city.   

Betsey Bigg's Sunken Garden
Photo Credit: Gregg Vigliotti for The New York Times

Composers Inside Electronics presented a vibrant and engaging interpretation of David Tudor’s Rainforest IV in the Garden Courtyard. Filling the secluded space with odds and ends hanging from the ceiling, Piezo discs capture the vibrations as electrical signals and amplify them through speakers, illuminating the unique voices of the objects. During the panel discussion, John Driscoll, a leading member of the group, pointed out that Rainforest was meant to be performed in an informal environment. Where the older of the crowd tended to observe and tentatively engage with the work, young people seemed fascinated—poking, prodding, and absorbing the excitement David Tudor must have felt when he initially conceived the experimental work in 1973.

Though some people had started to file out by the time 5:00 came around, there was also a general movement toward the Spanish Courtyard, where the day closed with live music. After a lively set from the improvisatory group Volume VI, Vicky Chow performed the Herculean Surface Image by Tristan Perich. A 40 speaker setup pulsed in unison as a violin section might bow, and the union of bit sounds and piano chords often clouded the line separating the two. Delicate harmonies gave way to intense minimalist passages before the piano again faded into the mass of electronic sounds. It was a perfect manifestation of the festival's central theme: that the acoustic and natural worlds can at once be at peace and in harmony with the electronic.