How do music and nature connect in your work? Richard Lerman



Richard Lerman
Photo by John C. Phillips

For me, music and nature connect through observation: soundscape to landscape. Most of my work has been created since using piezo electric materials. (In 1977, I made pickups for my piece Travelon Gamelon for amplified bicycles and continue working with them now.) Recording extended soundscapes with piezos, I asked: “If my ears were made of palm leaves or window screens, what would the world sound like?” Wind harps made of differing materials (rope, branches, knotted grass) become analogs for stringed instruments with wind/rain being the bow. I have also sought to record ephemera as the sound of spider webs, flame heating metal, and wind over the fences of Manzanar and Dachau.

By recording the sonic flavor of these materials and the activities going on around them, I hope to reveal the inherent musicality of each material and situation. Henry Cowell, in New Musical Resources (Cambridge University Press, 1996, p. 20), has a wonderful quote about music and nature that is visionary with regard to sampling. He suggests that abstract music could be built from sliding tones that occur in nature, and not just music based upon twelve pitches. I read this book in 1960 and was delighted to reacquaint myself with it some 35 years later.