Cardinal Points/The Hinge @ NC Botanical Gardens Annual Sculpture in The Gardens Show

The Cardinal is one of the most recognized birds in America. Named for their color like the robes of Catholic Bishops, Cardinalis Cardinalis is the state bird of seven US states including North Carolina. Having lived in four of those states, the Cardinal has been my state bird most of my life. So I enjoyed collaborating with Debbie Cohen, visual artist, and Bruce Edwards, woodwork artist, on the multi-media sculpture Cardinal Points/The Hinge.

The inspiration for the piece sprang from a years long friendship forged in creative play! Each Fall season, Debbie invited me to see the Sculpture in the Garden at the NC Botanical Gardens. She and her mother, Joan Cohen, have exhibited pieces in the show in previous years. One year, we sang Debbie’s brilliant song Tick Tock Time while engaging with the their sculptures and with the gardens. Last year, I wondered aloud about a sonic component to a sculpture, and off we went!

Our first inspirations were lofty – a ceramic perch for hawks with a sound sculpture of the calls of all the hawks of North Carolina. The perch would serve as an amplifier for a small speaker in the bottom playing the hawk calls. We realized that the regular calling out of many predators might be potentially aggravating for the smaller birds around the garden. This brings up an interesting design aspect of sound sculpting – how to present sculpted sound in a particular space so the audience is engaged and not irritated. This issue came up later in our working on this piece.

Then we were inspired by the Cardinal! First, the word Cardinal with its Latin/Catholic Church underpinnings and all its varied uses – Cardinal Numbers, Cardinal Directions, Cardinal Points, the last of which became the title for the piece! The physical sculpture was a group collaboration with input from Debbie’s mother, Joan, local artist/dancer Marty Broda, and others. Debbie, Bruce and I co-created the sculpture, which evolved over time but was always conceived as a tryptych. Debbie created four abstract Cardinal sculptures that are mounted in three different settings. One setting is a gorgeous piece of driftwood we obtained from Marty’s collection. I did not think much of it, as I got excited finding a perfect piece of white birch about 3.5 inches in diameter and perfect bark with interesting markings!! What is more iconic than a Cardinal on a white birch limb! So the birch limb is one setting.

Back to the driftwood- one day we intentionally broke the piece, reassembled it in an interesting way, and glued it into a new shape, which is a nest-like configuration. Debbie sanded and poly-ed that piece of wood into a gorgeous wood sculpture on which 2 of the ceramic birds are mounted. This piece is the anchor for the tryptych, and, thanks to the way Bruce mounted it on the fence at The Gardens, it appears to be floating!!

The third piece brings us back to the how to engage the audience with the sound sculpture. The first idea for this was to have the sound sculpture in an amplifier that would be triggered by motion! I commissioned Mark Boyd to design and build a box for this purpose. The box is beautiful and works great, but the curators for the show rejected this aspect due to possibly being an irritant to staff who might be triggering it over and over while working in the garden. I was disappointed and understanding of their position. The sound box was no longer a part of the physical sculpture. Bruce had designed and built a small shelf for the sound box and bird, so what what could replace the sound box? Debbie found two empty bird nests which she carefully wove together to create the third piece – a Cardinal on a nest.

We were pleased that Cardinal Points was accepted, and wondering how to bring The Hinge in, when friend Shana Adams suggested linking the sound sculpture to a QR Code so folks viewing Cardinal Points could listen to the sound sculpture via their phone! This turned out to be the perfect solution to the presentation issue in this case. The curators agreed, and we have the QR Code on the informational plaque for Cardinal Points. The QR code can be scanned by the camera on your phone! A website will come up on the phone, tap it and this will take you to my blog, where the sound sculpture now lives! You will see a web player with a playbutton. Make sure the sound on the phone is at least 75% full volume, tap play and listen!

The inspiration underlying The Hinge came from several spiritual traditions that believe the Cardinal is a messenger who moves between the spirit and material worlds. The word Cardinal is from the Latin cardo meaning “hinge”, so the birds are the hinges on the doorway between realms bringing messages to and from deceased loved ones. This is the inspiration for the sound sculpture, which sonically creates this movement between worlds in 45 seconds. First we hear the familiar “what-cheer” that is so recognizable as the Cardinal’s song! After several iterations, the call shimmers, breaks apart and feathers out into a kind of out breath. I invite folks engaging with the sculpture at NC Botanical Gardens to see the beautiful visual, remember a beloved and send love with the sonic outbreath.

The show runs from September 18 to December 4, 2022. For more about the show go to https://ncbg.unc.edu/visit/exhibits/sculpture-in-the-garden/

Audio Excerpt from Third Friday Performance

While Jody Cassell moved the energies across the room, Shana Adams, Morgan Fleming and I sounded around her. The sound reflected and supported Jody’s movement. In this excerpt, Jody was reaching for lost conversations, while Shana sang the words from Megan Bostic’s piece I Lost The Conversation, and Morgan and I stretched tones. I wish I had a video of the movement Jody responded with during this piece. It was a most beautiful fusion of visions.

Third Friday Performance@Durham Arts Council   July 21st  7:15pm                          

Jan Ru Wan and Megan Bostic collaborated on the current DAG show entitled Reconstructing Existence: I Create Therefore I am which will run through August 12th at the Durham Arts Council. This coming Friday, July 21st, Jody Cassell will present a movement piece in response to their work. Jody will be accompanied by dejacusse’ new soundscape The Drone of Aggrievement along with improvisations by vocalist Shana Adams and Morgan Fleming on violin. The performance will run from 7:15 to 8ish.

The art that you will experience that evening arises from a deep grief that enveloped the artists following the loss of a parent. Jan Ru, Megan and Jody have discovered mediums, forms, textures, patterns and relationships through found and intermingled objects and movement to allow their grief a public expression. Each person’s journey with grief is a singularity that we can witness and resonate with. The graceful power of these expressions of grief invite the audience members to reflect on their own grieving.

This is the third collaboration for Jan Ru, Jody and I; and our second with Megan. The first was in 2013 in the Seimans Gallery at Durham Arts Council. Resolving the Disquiet was the raw stage of grief where the memories of the parent’s presence and the shock of their loss was felt. Then last October at VAE in Raleigh, Jan Ru Wan created Separation and in-between an installation that was about reflection and connections across time and space. Jody and I improvised movement and sound offerings for both of these exhibits. Here is a link to more about the VAE show:  http://wp.me/p5yJTY-fd

The DAC show focuses on a renewed existence through creativity. The grief remains but brings energy and muse in relation to “what is.” The show is beautifully curated and very sculptural.

For this exhibit, I was inspired to create a drone in a carnatic scale that begins on Bb. Bb is the tonal center of much of the natural world. Cricket and frog calls, cicada songs and other more drone-like nature sounds tend to resonate in B or Bb. The drone is made up of long tones from this scale in large interval relationships. The 11th Harmonic is worked in to help disrupt any stuck energy.  I chose voices that pull at the heart (woodwinds and strings) and created audio effect racks to destabilize and texturize the sound. Wind is a featured sound texture along with snipping scissors, keystrokes, and Jody’s voice reading bits of her performance piece  Walking to Nairobi.  Shana and Morgan will improvise along with and independently of the soundscape – all as accompaniment to Jody Cassell’s dance piece.

Please join us this Friday, July 21, at the Durham Arts Council DAG Gallery at 7:15 pm.

Experiments in Nested Soundscapes No.1

The abundance of summer has brought forth many wonderful creative connections and reconnections. In addition to the regular cohorts (Susanne Romey, Eleanor Mills and Jim Kellough), other sweet friends have been coming over to jam with soundscapes. We set up in the Sun{Ra} Room, and usually I record what we do. This week I had a special treat when Emily Smith came for dinner and to work her cello magic on the soundscapes.

Emily and I have spent many hours rehearsing over the past four years as members of The Full Shanti, a local kirtan band. Most of our kirtan arrangements were improvised, so we have spent hours improvising together as well. I culled an excerpt from the forty minutes or so we played to share with you. You will hear three different pieces, the first two are soundscapes. The last one is an orchestral ukulele chord progression that I intend to build a soundscape around. I love playing this theme soooo much. I really feel it in my heart. It is definitely inspired by my love for the theme from Downton Abbey and the soundtrack from the movie, The Piano.


Emily’s cello playing is like a big, warm hug, plus she loves to try extended techniques on the instrument AND add in percussive elements.  The two soundscapes we played were developed for Moving Meditations and an evening dance class I accompanied this past Sunday at the ADF (American Dance Festival) Studios in Durham, NC. During the Moving Meditation, Jody Cassell lead the group through movement and meditation awarenesses as Shana Adams and I filled the space with sound. Here is an excerpt from that morning with Shana improvising over the same soundscape you heard above in a larger room with people moving quietly about.

As you can hear, the soundscape has a different quality in each of these two space collaborations.

I am feeling excited about studying and molding the acoustics in the Sun{Ra} Room as a means of understanding room acoustics, mic placement, etc. I started analyzing it last year, but got pulled in other directions.

I do believe I have circled back around as Nested Soundscapes becomes one area of focus for my creative work.