Over the past two years in cities throughout the U.S., groups of people have been gathering, digital music players in hand and headphones in place, to watch the sun rise or set. It must be an odd sight for anyone stumbling across these scenes—25 to 50 people all “plugged in,” intently facing in the direction of the sun. They are all listening to the same music (downloaded beforehand) by composer Nat Evans; Sunrise or Blue Hour depending on the time of day. Inspired by both the daily and the seasonal changes of light he has observed during his mediation practice, Evans has created a slowly evolving electroacoustic soundscape of field recordings and orchestral instruments intended to follow the path of the sun during these transitional times of day.
When questioned about bringing people together in order to listen to something through headphones, he is quick to point out that the experiences of gathering beforehand, listening as a group to the same musical content during the observance of a natural event (he even gives everyone a cue to start so that the recordings will be more or less in sync), and the interactions of participants afterwards taken all at once result in a group-oriented occurrence. As he says, it’s easy to declare that earbuds are separating us all, but the truth is that people gather in public places without talking to one another all the time—at a yoga class, at a coffee shop, or at a library, for example. He sees this project as re-purposing earbuds to create a communal experience.
Taking inspiration from elements of his practice of Zen Buddhism and from the natural landscape of the Pacific Northwest, Evans’s music generally contains slow tempo markings and revels in timbral transformation. As a result, the small details found in each note and in every passing sonic moment are highlighted. It’s a continual challenge to convince musicians to perform his music slowly enough, and he finds himself saying, “I realize that I have painted myself into this corner. But still, play it slower!” Often found carrying a portable digital recorder, he is always collecting sounds, largely from nature, that he fluently mixes and matches with acoustic instruments and voice. His prolific rate of composing, and his openness to collaboration combined with a proclivity to take music outside of the standard concert hall setting have resulted in both site-specific and time-specific works, installations, music for dance and video art, as well as the occasional concert work. If it has to happen indoors, his field recordings bring the outside in for the audience.
Evans feels that living in Seattle suits him well as a composer; although the distance to concerts on the West Coast is very long, he says, the distance to nature is very short, and he is grateful to be able to spend so much time outdoors. He feels free to do as he likes musically, without the pressures found in the music scenes of more densely populated areas. At the same time, he has at his disposal the percolating Seattle music world to draw from and be part of.
Evans hopes that his music creates organic, intimate, and—very importantly—interesting listening experiences which are closely related to everyday life for audiences. His goal is to spur listeners from all walks of life to look outside of themselves to discover a deeper appreciation of life’s small moments. When the people participating in his time-specific sunrise and sunset events remove their headphones and head home, his intention is that they experience the rest of the day with a greater sense of richness and depth.