The Lightening

Last year, my neighborhood friend, the artist Chris Doyle, asked me to collaborate with him on an ambitious installation in San Francisco called The Fluid. He created three massive walls of animation inspired by the Hudson River, and I composed an accompanying score for small woodwind ensemble, piano, and cello. We had such a good time working together that we decided to do it again. But this year, the ambition level was raised even higher.

To commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Wave Hill being donated to New York, Chris was commissioned to create a piece for their aquatic garden. Nestled up in the Bronx, on twenty eight gorgeous acres overlooking the Hudson, Wave Hill is a stunning property with a mansion that has housed the likes of Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and Arturo Toscanini.  Taking advantage of Doyle’s vision for The Lightening, and to make the anniversary even more special, Wave Hill decided to do something they’ve never done before in their history – open up the grounds to the public after dark. Chris created three sculptures, each with different materials, combining two way mirrors, transparent windows, and tinted screens, that project and reflect handmade animations in and around the space of the aquatic garden.

After looking at renderings of the designs, and watching some of the animations that Chris made, we discussed the kind of music that would best capture the surroundings and eventually become the sound scape for the installation. At one point we were thinking of a brass quintet, but then we both had the same idea at the same time…what about the Brooklyn Youth Chorus? I’d personally never worked with them, but many of my fellow musician friends had, and their reputation is stellar (due in no small part to their founder and director, Dianne Berkun-Menaker). Chris and I were both thrilled when they agreed to record the piece for the installation, and better yet, to perform live at the premiere of The Lightening.

Much like the sculptures and the animations emanating from them, the music ended up being a combination of sounds inspired by nature; mosquitos, frogs, birds, muted textures from under water. But Chris’ pieces also take on the age of technology and the idea of reflection, both internal and external, from looking into a pond, to mirrors, to television and computer screens. Trying to capture this tension of natural vs technological proved to be quite a challenge, but the Brooklyn Youth Chorus rose to the occasion and the end result was thrilling to hear. We recorded the kids at The Bunker Studio in Brooklyn, with one of my favorite engineers, John Davis, and The Lightening was mixed at Transmitter Park Studios by my longtime friend and collaborator, Abe Seiferth. If you’re in New York this month, do yourself a favor and go up to Wave Hill for a visit. You will not regret it!

photos by: Stefan Hagen