Q & A: Abby Aresty
Sound artist discusses the inspiration and techniques behind the forthcoming Center for Sustainable Landscapes sound installation Of Earth and Sun.
Inspired by the Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL), Of Earth and Sun is a new permanent sound art installation commissioned by Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens and created by Abby Aresty to celebrate Pittsburgh’s unique soundscape and illuminate the poetry of sustainable design. The project lies at the intersection of the arts, the environment and cutting-edge technology: It is created from sounds collected from throughout Pittsburgh and will be driven by and integrated into the very systems that sustain the CSL.
Click below to play to a sample from the installation:
As a musician, composer and sound artist whose work is strongly rooted in a sense of place and awareness of the natural world, Abby Aresty made a perfect fit for this dynamic new installation. We sat down with Abby to talk about the inspiration behind the project and what visitors can expect.
How did you first become interested in sound art composition?
I have been involved with sound my entire life. As a composer, I have always been interested in incorporating “real” sounds into my work. While I love musical instruments, I’m also inspired by the sounds that surround us in our daily lives. I’ve written pieces made entirely from cooking sounds, the sound of breath, and squeaky green gloves on glass, to name a few. My first sound art installation was an extension of this interest. I created a composition in seven parts, played from trees located throughout an arboretum in Seattle. The pieces were made from sounds I recorded on site and subsequently transformed, creating a sonic bridge between the manmade and natural soundscape of the arboretum. In creating the installation spread across the arboretum, the work became collaboration with visitors: As they moved through space, they could physically shape their own musical experience.
How do you decide where to go to collect the best sounds?
As someone who is relatively new to town, I began by simply exploring, listening, keeping my ears open, and being attuned to the subtleties of the sonic environment. Over the summer I biked everywhere so that I could listen along the way. Often I’d be headed to one location and get sidetracked by a particularly nice sound along the way.
But, it’s worth noting that you can actually find great sound almost anywhere — if you are patient. The challenge is getting a decent recording: Planes, traffic and other noises often get in the way. In certain locations, then, the question becomes more about finding the right time to record. Early Sunday mornings, holidays and late at night, especially in the summer, are wonderful times to record — the quietest times when few people are out and about.
Can you describe the inspiration behind Of Earth and Sun?
The Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL) is the inspiration for the piece. The building is amazing: it works with its environment, transforming with the seasons and the weather, and ultimately reconnecting occupants to their environment. I want to create an installation that reflects what is so special about this building through sound. That means reconnecting people to their environment through the use of local natural sounds and creating a soundscape that changes dynamically with the seasons and time of day.
What is the most difficult part of the process?
There are many different components to the installation, and each has its own unique challenges. Recording, editing and categorizing sound takes a lot of time. But since I’m working on it right now, building the system that drives the installation feels like the most difficult part.
Why do you think it is important for CSL visitors to be exposed to sound art as well as visual art?
As a visually oriented society, we rarely stop to notice how profoundly sound affects our sense of place. The CSL, which is filled with daylight streaming in through the plentiful windows, but is sonically disconnected from its environment by the triple-paned glass, is the perfect place to introduce sound as art.
What impact do you hope this sound installation has on visitors?
As with all my work, I hope that the installation gives people an excuse to stop and quietly listen in the space, and encourages them to listen to their environment even after they leave the space.
When you do expect Of Earth and Sun to be complete?
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Winter Light Garden open evenings 5 – 11 p.m.*
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