I love the sound of distance.

When I was a child I was fascinated by the sound of fireworks, lightning, a crowd... anything that was delayed by distance. Hearing the "pop" of an exploding firework a second after seeing the light, followed by the "ooo, ahhh" of the crowd is magical to me.

Many times, I've had the opportunity to create grand soundscapes in nature, usually convincing someone to rent speakers and put them up at great distances around valleys or vineyards. The idea is to not try to correct for the natural time delay, just let the sound echo around at it's own pace. Also, I try to not amplify the sound more than what it would be naturally. Playing a recording of a bell tower in Italy from a speaker half a mile away should sound precisely like... well, a bell tower half a mile away. A bird recording should be no louder than a bird sitting on the speaker. The birds may find this confusing.

Napa Valley in California hosts a famous charitable Wine Auction every year. One particular time, it was held at Meadowood Resort in a small, beautiful valley off of the Silverado Trail. Molly Chappellet is an artist and one of the reasons Napa Valley is known for wine (understatement intended). She was creating a series of sculptures for the event and she wanted them to have sound and music as a component and invited me to collaborate.

Valley Speakers

We created a giant surround sound system in the valley by putting speakers on the hillsides left and right, in the middle about half a mile away and at the beautiful restaurant that is front and center. We put a small performing stage on a balcony that overlooked the whole scene.

Matt Eakle and some of his favorite musician friends then joined me on the balcony on the day of the wine auction. He stood at the microphone with the musicians clearly wondering just exactly what we had in mind. You see, there was no written music. There was only me assuring everyone that they would know exactly what to play once they heard the sound.

They did. 

Matt played one long, sweet note on his flute. He paused. The note drifted through the valley and came back to us from the distance. It filled the space like silver fog and took forever to dissipate. What followed was inspiring. All eyebrows of all musicians raised perceptibly and there was some competition as to who was going to get ahold of the microphone next. Brilliant cellist Alex Kelly won.

It is impossible to record, but I offer you here a small composition made from their live improvisations in that wonderful moment, in that amazing space.


PS: All of these excellent musicians are linked below. I hope you give them a listen.

Flute - Matt Eakle

Cello  - Alex Kelly

Violin - Charles Yang

Harp - Motoshi Kosako

Japanese Shakuhachi - Masaki Nakamura 

Herald Trumpet - John Capobianco

Guitar - Paul Binkley