Lanier Sammons

Art Works Residency at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History

6/28/16 - 7/25/16

705 Front St, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Over the course of my residency, I'll be working on five participatory composition and recording projects.  These projects will bring visitors to the museum into the midst of the creative process and produce new musical works that reflect our collaborative experiences.  Below you can find the descriptions of and instructions for the five projects as well as links to hear some of the in-progress and completed music.  To the right, you'll find the schedule of when I'll be present at the museum.  Please drop by and make some music with me.

Drawn Music (Hear)

Music and visual art have a long history of mutual inspiration.  On the musical side, composers like Listz, Rimsky-Korsakov, Scriabin, and Messiaen have been identified as synesthetes – people for whom images and sounds are neurologically linked.  Works like Morton Feldman’s Rothko Chapel and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition take specific visual artworks as their inspiration. 


For this project, I’m asking you to create a visual response to a short piece of music that I’ve written.  On the player in front of you, you’ll find several short pieces.  Take a listen, and select one that you’d like to take as your inspiration.  Draw whatever you’d like on one of the sheets available in front of you.  There are no stylistic constraints here, and you can interpret the music as strictly or loosely as you’d like.  Once you’ve finished, please clip your contribution to the twine on the outer walls of my studio.  During the course of the residency, I’ll then be using your art as the inspiration for new pieces that I’ll compose.  These pieces will then, in turn, be available here for other visitors to take as inspiration for their creations.  Toward the end of the project, Soyeon Kim will create an animated film from the art and music that results from our collaboration.


Pool (Hear)

In 1969, Fredric Rzewski composed a piece entitled “Sound Pool.”  The score to the work contains a list of instructions for a large group of performers to improvise together.  For our purposes today, there’s one key sentence that I’d like to highlight:


“Bring your own sound, and add it to the pool when you feel the moment is right.”


For this project, I’d like to invite you to contribute your own sound.  I have a microphone handy, and when you’re ready, I’ll record you making whatever sound you’d like add to the pool.  I’ll be collecting sounds over the course of the residency, and I invite you to return and contribute additional sounds.  Feel free to bring in an instrument or object that makes a particularly meaningful or intriguing sound.


From this pool of sounds that visitors will fill up for me, I’ll take on the role of realizing the second part of Rzewski’s instruction.  I’ll look for the right moment for each sound and build pieces out of what you’ve collectively contributed over the course of my residency.


Graphic Scores (Hear)

Western musical notation is a fascinating, robust, and useful system.  Composers can share a tremendous amount of musical information via its conventions, and expert performers can develop a remarkably direct link between its indications and what flows from their instruments.  However, the familiar, standard notational system has its limits, and composers are constantly bending its rules, reshaping its symbols, and inventing entirely new notations.


One type of departure from notational tradition, often known as graphic notation, arose in the middle of the 20th century as composers sought to realize musical ideas that didn’t fit well on the staff.  In many cases, performers of these graphic scores are confronted with brand new symbols and shapes whose meaning the composer might well have left to the performer to interpret.  This act of interpretation can lead to fascinating musical experiences that lie somewhere between improvisation and fully composed music.


For this project, I’d like you to contribute a novel musical symbol.  Your contribution can take any visible physical form you’d like: drawing, text, or anything else you can imagine.  It can be as specific or vague in its sonic meaning as you’d like.  Please just restrict it to one of the boxes on the sheets in front of you.


My contribution will be taking the notations you’ve invented and fashioning it into a new graphic score.  I’ll then ask the performers who visit to perform these scores, and I'll share the resulting recordings with you.

Our Songs (Hear)

I’ve never been a big fan of the distinction that tends to get drawn between composers and songwriters.  We’re all, ultimately, engaged in the same act: trying to create great music.  And differences of form, genres, and the presence or absence of voice seem like relatively minor distinguishing features in the face of that goal. 


That said, lyrics are hard.  I’ve tried my hand at writing songs often enough to appreciate the value of duos like Rodgers and Hammerstein, John and Taupin, and RZA and his Wu-Tang partners in which the musical and lyrical duties are split up.  So for this project, I’m asking you all to become my lyricists.


The player in front of you has MIDI-based demos for a few songs.  In those you’ll hear two or three melodies that I’ve written to serve as sections of the song.  Some harmony and perhaps an additional arrangement element or two might be there to give you a little context for the melody.  You’ll also see lead sheets in front of you on the table showing the title, notated melody, and the harmony.  On the lyrics sheet provided, please provide words to fit one or more of the melodies.  Please make sure to indicate the song your lyrics are for. 



Stories about composing are often full of descriptions of inspiration striking like lightning: Mozart flawlessly pouring out fully completed pieces at the piano or McCartney dreaming “Yesterday.”  For me, that’s almost never how it works.  Rather than hearing a single, complete, ideal version of a new piece, I hear options.  For any particular section of a piece, it always seems to me that several different paths are available.  Choosing which one to take is often the hardest part of composing.


As part of my residency, I’m asking you to help me make these decisions.  I have several in-progress pieces that have reached a decision point.  And I’ve composed a few options for how I’m imagining the music preceding.  I’d like your help in deciding which one’s right for the piece (or, perhaps, to realize that something different than what I’ve proposed is the piece’s destiny). 


To achieve that, I’ll play you the portion of the piece that’s already written and let you hear the options I’m proposing for how it might proceed.  Once you’ve heard my ideas, please let me know what you prefer, and I might have a few questions for you about what inspires that decision.  After collecting a nice chunk of feedback, I’ll make a choice based on what visitors have told me, and I’ll begin writing options for the next section.


Once a piece is completed, I have some performer friends who’ll join me in the gallery to record the new piece shaped by your input.

MAH Art Works Residency Schedule:

7/12 2:00 - 5:00


7/13 12:00 - 4:00

7/15 2:00 - 9:00


7/16 11:00 - 3:00


7/17 12:00 - 3:00


7/20 11:00 - 5:00


7/22 2:00 - 7:00


7/23 2:00 - 5:00


7/24 12:00 - 4:00