Berwick: The bush next to the dryer vent.

urban weather

Musical Notation Notes

general info about graphic scores:

"In the late forties and early fifties it became clear that there is a correspondence between time and space. And music is not isolated from [space], because one second of sound is so many inches on tape. That means that the old meters of two, three, and four are no longer necessary, that space on a page is equivalent to time. Therefore, I began doing graphic notations, and those graphic notations led other people to invite me to make graphic works apart from music. And those led me in turn to make musical scores that were very graphic."

-john cage

and 'eye music':


Reading List

(from email correspondence 10/12/08)

Hello Bonnie & Nova,

In all the enthusiasm to finally have a chance to begin sharing with you what's been ticking in my head, I forgot the most important part - the observation journal I have started for this project. I have also started building a sculpture, based on the data I have already collected here. I'll bring all that on Tuesday. IF Bonnie's studio situation works out (did you get my last email?), I might make that my Berwick studio for the residency.

My reading list of late has included:

Emergence - Stephen Johnson (about complexity theory)
Simplexity - Jeffrey Kluger (about complexity theory)
Sync - The emerging science of spontaneous order - Steven Strogatz

Also love the following books:

Einstein's Dreams - Alan Lightman (non-fiction / fiction)
The German Lesson - Sigfried Lentz (fiction)
Anything by Samuel Becket or Jean Ionesco or Bertholt Brecht (drama)
The Tipping Point - Malcom Gladwell
The World Without Us - Alan Weisman (what if we all disappeared from earth, what would happen to this planet...fantastic book!)
Field Notes from a Catastrophe - Elizabeth Kolbert (non-fiction, great book on climate change)
The Weather Makers - Tim Flannery (non-fiction, climate-change)

I also have a weakness for detective novels, which replace TV for me.

I have this list of people I carry in my mind with whom, if I could, would like to have a beer with. Obviously this isn't realistic, since some of them are already dead. But, nonetheless, they intrigue me for one reason or another and would love to hear them speak. Many of them are not artists and even those who are, don't necessarily make art I like. It's more their thinking that I find interesting:

Agnes Denes - her drawings on thoughts and equating the evolution of thoughts to the ways crystals grow.
Matthew Ritchie - the way he uses his paintings and writings to construct a cosmology that infuses religion, science and fiction
Bill Viola - the guy is just so damn articulate about life and it's a pleasure to hear him talk
Johannes Kepler - famous mathematician and devout believer in God. His spherical model of the universe is unbelievably beautiful!
Leonardo Da Vinci - I want to sit next to a river with him and have him explain to me the turbulence of water.

On Tuesday, I will bring you both copies of Steve Reich music as well as the article I mentioned by Peter Galison called "Data Scatter into Images, Images Scatter into Data". I'll also set up some stuff in my studio area for folks to look at - notebooks, sculptures, things in progress.

See you Tuesday,


Data Interpretation - Musical Notation

The analogy to music became an almost immediate realization. What I was looking for was a vocabulary that would allow me to dig deeper in exploring these nuances and idiosyncratic way of understanding weather. Two aspects of music, in particular struck me as having qualities worthy to explore and integrate into sculpture. First, there is the physicality of musical performances of large orchestras. The peripherals awareness a musician has to perform is very akin to the peripheral reading you do while you record weather data. When a musician plays his notes, he/she is also looking at the conductor for tempo as well as being aware of his/her neighbors. When I am using my instruments to collect temperature and barometric pressure, I am also looking for clues within the physical environment that would indicate some visual evidence of that relationship. In addition to the physical awareness of the players on stage, there is also a temporal awareness. Each player enters and exists the orchestral piece at different parts and even in different tempos. Rather than one instrument (or one sculpture, to draw the analogy back to sculpture) playing the entire piece, the musical composition comes together through this interplay of different instruments.
The second interest in music has to do with musical notations. A composer can dictate the cadence, loudness, even flavor of a note through symbols that are written within the piece. In weather, 25 mph wind does not always feel the same way. When the ground is frozen on the beach and the top layer of sand is loose, the kernels of sand will bite, sting and slash your face. It becomes impossible to see and the only way to advance is to turn your body against the wind and walk backwards. When it is a southern wind, a 25mph wind can bring the warmth of the south with it. When the wind blew from the North on Cape Cod at 25 mph, it became impossible to bike to the beach with my equipment, as wind gusts would literally throw me into sand dunes.
To follow my analogy with music, I began to look for actual music that would feel akin to the way I would imagine music to reflect the interaction of weather. One of the first composers that I looked at was one I have been listening to in my studio for many years: Steve Reich.
Steve' Reich's Music for 18 Musicians is an example of what some of the qualities are that remind me of the interaction of systems in weather. The whole piece is based on pulses that are based on the tempo of a human breath. The clarinet and the human voices dictate that rhythm, while the other non-breath instruments follow it. After a few rehearsals, the whole piece can be played without a conductor, after which the clarinet becomes the lead instruments for tempo. During the different movement, different instruments become the leader of a new phrase, each change in rhythm or melody being introduced through the metallophone. The whole piece is thus an interplay of different instruments, in which each becomes the leader at some point, while also being tempered by the timing of the human breath.
When I started looking at the notes, I was struck at how similar weather data interacts. Sometimes it is the wind which becomes the leader of the systems, when everything else seems to react to its force and power. Sometimes it is a drastic drop in barometric pressure that defines most clearly the environment changes, such as the way birds fly or the way sound travels over water. Other times it is temperature that comes to the foreground, when the first frost on the ground announces a change in season. Steve Reich's piece is also an analogy to weather behaving like an ‘emerging system, in which individual systems react and influence neighboring systems' behaviors, producing larger regional weather patterns that emerge further to influence global weather trends.
The fact that this piece's tempo is based on a human breath is also a great metaphor of what it actually feels like to observe weather on a daily basis. Over time I am beginning to realize that the most insightful moments I have in interpreting weather don't come from staring at accurate numbers I download from a NOAA satellite, but from empirical data, based on my own subjective interpretations of weather. It is when I draw direct relationships between what I record and what I actually observe, that I get glimpses of understandings. Weather observing takes a lot of disciplines and forces me to, in a sense, stop my daily activities everyday for 10 minutes to look up at the sky and notice the clouds. You can't record the movement of clouds without standing still. I stand, I breath, I notice, I record.
A more appropriate example of what might approximate the disjointed way I experienced weather in Omaha would be Steve Reich's City Life. In this piece, recorded sound bites of city life are interspersed with instruments. At times the rawness of city sounds takes over and seems to squash the instruments, other times they seem to work in tandem, and yet other times the instruments drown out the city noises.
My first attempt to translate all these new thoughts sprouting in my head came through in Urban Weather Prairies - Symphonic Studies in D Minor. The piece translates data collected in Omaha, Nebraska, during a 2-month period (May /June 2008), while I was an Artist in Residence at the Bemis Center. I chose to translate the data I collected in the format of an orchestra as a way to more truthfully articulate the somewhat idiosyncratic way I was making sense of my daily weather observations. In this piece, each sculpture and wall piece tells part of the story, with the entirety of the piece coming together through the larger behavioral patterns that slowly emerge over time.

nmiebach's orchestra

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