Learning with Landmarks: Sound in Sculpture

16 March 2015

Five Ph.D. candidates from the Butler School of Music, five sculptures from the Landmarks collection on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and 100 lucky spectators came together to create a special evening of music and art. Butler School alum and Texas Performing Arts staffer Timothy Rogers imagined a program where students compose original scores inspired by works in Bass Concert Hall. The result was the inaugural Sound in Sculpture event. 

One of the first lessons of art appreciation is to allow a work of art to reveal itself. Sometimes a highly energetic, dynamic piece like Nancy Rubins’ Monochrome for Austin makes an instant impression, while works like Juan Hamilton’s Curve and Shadow, No. 2 slowly unveil their subtleties. Then, just when you think you’ve come to understand an artist’s intent, someone points out something you’ve never noticed or considered. Sound in Sculpture invited five composers to create music inspired by works in the Landmarks collection, causing each spectator to take a second look.

Corey Cunningham employed Bass’ multilevel atrium, stationing eight saxophonists on four levels. His highly textured, repeating melodies swept through the building, resting on the top floor where Untitled (Seven Mountains) stands, hand-carved with chisels and chainsaws by artist Ursula von Rydingsvard. 



Christopher S. Prosser constructed a narrative for Figure by Eduardo Paolozzi, a fanciful, robotic creature made from slabs of clay pressed and embedded with scrap metal then cast into bronze. Once modest, Figure’s stature swells with the crescendo of four French horns as he combats evil in the name of peace and justice.    



A favorite subject of artists throughout history, The Swan’s Dream of Leda by David Hare shows Zeus in the form of a swan moments before he overtakes Leda. The electronic score by Steve Sachse captures the suspense and intensity of Zeus’ magnetic attraction with metallic, vibrating sounds and flapping wings. The absence of musicians and instruments gives the illusion that the sculpture itself is generating the sounds.



Like Sachse, Elizabeth Anne Comninellis took inspiration from the physical properties of her chosen sculpture–Column of Peace by Antoine Pevsner. She combined a cello and clarinet with percussion in a composition about man’s struggle to find peace. Hopeful and uplifting, each instrument reaches its highest register at the conclusion, mirroring Pevsner’s ascending columns.



Lastly, Bryan Hunt’s Amphora, named after clay vessels used in ancient Greece to store goods–particularly water and wine–inspired an electronic piece by Jon Fielder. Sounds of trickling water flowing through a cavernous vessel form the backdrop of this cutting edge form of music making. Fielder demonstrates that ancient cultures are relevant to contemporary society and the juxtaposition can be dynamic and thought provoking.



The program proved that there are endless ways to be moved or inspired by a work of art. Watching the works of visual artists inform a new generation of composers is extraordinarily moving. Thank you TPA and the Butler School for inviting such talented artists to find inspiration in the Landmarks collection and for creating a memorable evening.  We look forward to more!

Photos by Timothy Rogers