Widgets Magazine

Rites of Spring, 2x: Thought Experiments at Custer, Quogue Nocture at the Wildlife Refuge

The cover photo is the Quogue Nature Center, where Sunday's concert will be. Photo credit Marisa Nelson Enjoy interviews profiling the coming two Rites of Spring Concerts, this Saturday and Sunday. The first multidimensional experience begins with an exhibit, opening at 5 pm, followed by a talk at 6:30, the concert at 7, and a reception and stargazing thereafter. Tickets for that event here.  Sunday's starts with a talk & meet the animals at 4:30 pm, a concert at 5, and then a reception. Tickets for that event here.

Composer Cork Maul shares his thoughts on Thought Experiments Under the Stars at Custer, Saturday

Q: The concert is called Thought Experiments Under the Stars; what should concert goers expect to experience?

Cork: It’s going to be a series of musical pieces based around the idea of thought experiments happening in the observatory. The program begins with the stunning solo percussion piece "Psappha" by Iannis Xenakis, continues with a number of Hidden City Orchestra improvisational works, and ends with the engaging piece "Stop Speaking" by Andy Akiho for snare drum and tape.

The concert is preceded by a talk with Justine Haupt, astroengineer and Brookhaven National Labs astronomer, and myself, and an exhibit on musical notation. The performance is followed by a wine and chocolate reception and stargazing.

Q: What do you mean by thought experiments?

Cork: There’s a long history of thought experiment—there are like six famous ones, like Einstein’s riding on a light beam, or Tesla’s idea of free electricity around the world by using the Earth’s magnetic field. Scientists who like using thought experiments to test out an idea and come up with a new idea.

Q: What are thought experiments in music?

Cork:  I like to close my eyes and try to imagine what music will be like in the future.

Some of the elements of music are pitch, rhythm, motifs, lyrics, the way that things change, development.  A thousand years ago, rhythms were very simple in music, now they’re very complicated. There have been times where there were almost no lyrics. Simple harmonies have progressed to such complicated harmonies that are so dissonant it’s hard to think of them as harmonies.

So what will music be in the future? Music without sound—why does music have to have pitch—could music have a way of changing, say light instead of sound—animated notation, videos of notation, no notes, no staff, entirely different look.

Q: So that’s very interesting stuff to think about, but what does that mean for the concertgoer? What will the musical experience at Custer be like?

Cork: Well, some of the pieces will be experiments. One will be a chocolate improvisation—we’ll hand out dark and milk chocolates—and improvise based on the audience’s reactions.

Q: An improv piece based on the audience’s reactions to eating dark and milk chocolate—sounds delicious and interesting. What’s another musical experiment?

Cork: For another piece, all the musicians will start and stop individually without knowing where the other people will stop, and try to make meaning from that. Another one is the dancing house, based on the idea of what it would be like if a house could dance. Another piece called start from scratch, where we start with scratching sounds and see what we can make from that.

When you do scientific experiment, maybe you’ll take a hundred petri dishes, put stuff in each and maybe three are interesting and you focus on them.

Q: You mentioned that before the concert, you and Justine would have a conversation—what is that about?

Cork: We’re going to talk about the differences between science and art and what they mean.  We’re going to try to relate that idea to musical ideas, and come up with some musical thought experiment.

When I met with Justine the other day just to have a preliminary conversation, I asked her what kinds of experiments astronomers do—you’re not mixing fluids, injecting things, the kinds of stuff we usually think of as experiments.

Q: What did she say? Or do we have to wait to find out?

Cork: We should wait.

Marisa Nelson Assistant Director of Quogue, and Cliff Baldwin, Composer, discuss the musical installation experience that is the Quogue Nocturne

Q: What is the Quogue Wildlife Refuge?

Marisa: The refuge was founded 1934; it is a 300 acre nature preserve. Seven miles of nature trails are open every day—year round—sunrise to sunset. We also house permanently injured wildlife that we care for. Owls, foxes, bald eagle, hawks—they cannot be released.

Photo Credit Kevin Ferris

We have a nature center here with exhibits and some other live animals and we offer programs year round to the public and schools, including summer camp too.

Q: What would someone experience walking your seven miles of trail?

Marisa: The trails go through a variety of habitats; if you go all the way north, the trails take you into the ecologically rare pines in the Pine Barrens. The ground becomes very sandy and the trees are really short. People also love the bridge that crosses over the pond as they can view the turtles and fish that live in the pond.

Photo Credit: Robert Seifert

Q: How did the Quogue Wildlife Refuge get connected to the Rites of Spring?

Marisa:  Paolo Bartolani visited one day, and loved the refuge and nature center, and invited us to participate.  We’re just thrilled to have the refuge included in the rites of spring music fest.

Q: What is the Rites of Spring at Quogue Wildlife Center all about?

Marisa: The concert will take place in the main room of the nature center, which has floor to ceiling windows overlooking the pond—a beautiful room. 

This concert will be very interesting because the pre-concert conversation will involve meeting some of the resident owls, and the music will involve a soundscape of owls, frogs, and crickets—the nocturnal sounds of the native wildlife.

Cliff: The piece is written specifically for the location, a bespoke composition tailored just for the Refuge. Sounds have been gathered at Quogue Wildlife Refuge and will be mixed with live musicians.

The piece has six sections that run from a few to fifteen minutes in length.

Between some of the pieces will be readings from ancient texts about birds and frogs by Doc Greenberger, noted Latin scholar and Cutchogue resident.

The music can be best described as electroacoustic, a combination of electronic music and acoustic sounds.

Q: So cool—a custom piece of music and performance shaped for the beautiful setting, this is more performance art/musical installation than straight concert piece. And meeting the animals beforehand—how neat! Are there any other aspects to this event?

Marisa: After the concert there will be a wild food reception. The caterer, Early Girl Farm, will provide bites of food to go with the complementary wine. The bites will be food that is native and wild in the area.

Q: Cliff, you participated in last year’s Rites of Spring, at the Custer Observatory performance. Is this piece similar? Is this kind of musical work you usually do?

Cliff: I’ve written electronic music for 40 years so this is a continuation of my previous work. Last year’s Kepler Music at Custer Institute was similar in instrumentation, though the music itself is quite different.

Rob Shepperson on percussion, John Jinks on bass and banjo, Ella Baldwin on baritone sax, Cesar Flores on trombone, Doc Greenberger on vocals and myself on alto sax and electronics.

Q: Besides music, you’re a visual artist as well, right Cliff?

Cliff: Yes, I show as much as possible. My artists books and prints are in several collections including MoMA. Lots more on my website.

Q: Marisa, how did you become part of the Quogue Wildlife Refuge?

Marisa: I became connected in 1992 as a college student intern through LIU Southampton. Then I left the Marine Science program to become a nurse. For several years I worked as a nurse, and then I started volunteering here too. In 2003, after nine years of nursing, I started full time. I love it here, it’s a great place to be. I love the visitors, the animals—I really enjoy it.