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High Concepts

Musical Wyoming

by Sponsored Artist Luke Gullickson

Wyoming

We are all aware that there exists a state called “Wyoming,” but what is it, really, to “wyome”? Consider: Wyoming ranks tenth among the states in area, and fiftieth in population. About 584,000 people live there: that is roughly the populace of Des Moines, stretched across a hundred thousand square miles. There is a place, near the town of Buffalo, called Crazy Woman Canyon. Locals ascribe the name to the Wind out there, so forceful it begs personification, so relentless, the story goes, that it drove some early settlers insane.

I remember hearing the Wind at night through the walls of my little log cabin studio at the Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts. I’d been given the priceless opportunity to wyome for a whole blessed month, and I used that time to write Open. It was, to be honest, an exceptionally nice log cabin. Carpeted, insulated, with a Yamaha grand piano. But I’ve written music in countless nice rooms over the years. What counted is what was out on the other side of the walls.

In an essay for NewMusicBox about the Brush Creek experience, I described a trip to the nearby town of Encampment. Sources list this town’s population at 443, which I think is somewhat optimistic. There’s more Wind than people in Encampment. The name is apt. From any spot you stand in Encampment, you can see the edge of Encampment. Human habitation feels tenuous. The open spaces rumble like low continuous thunder just past the last line of houses.

I know I’m expected to claim that the city is loud and the West quieter, but my experience is the opposite. Something was unsettlingly quiet when I was living in Chicago, despite all the honking and clanking and clamoring; turns out what I couldn’t hear was precisely that howling silence I loved at Brush Creek, the aural presence of space. The lack of it nearly drove me as crazy as those mythic Wyoming homesteaders.

And that’s what I tried to get on paper with Open. It wasn’t really writing “music,” in the traditional sense of cyclic, formally regulated melodies and harmonies. Rather it was a process of walking around and hearing the silence, and sitting at the piano each morning to write it down.

I suspected that this sonic meandering, this compositional wyoming, if you might, would not sit too comfortably at a classical music concert, so I made no effort to program Open until I realized it could be enlivened by dance. For long periods you’ll hear the same low pedal tones and intertwining melodic motives repeating themselves. I like to imagine these sounds as the perceptive processes of a person sitting in place, and the dancers as the Wind swirling about that person.

But that’s just metaphor. I hope that these 33 minutes might in fact allow a person in Chicago to hear a bit of the silence, a shred of the space. I’m eager to share this music, and dropshift dance’s beautiful work, with the city next week.

OPEN by Dropshift Dance and Luke Gullickson
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
8 PM / $10
High Concept Labs
2233 S Throop St, Chicago, IL

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This blog is a source for our associated artists and audiences to share the experience of the creative process. Here you will find news, pictures, and video's of the new work created at HCL.

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