Category Archives: UC San Diego

The Trees are the Instruments

“I’m profoundly influenced by the natural world and a strong sense of place…I hope to explore the territory of sonic geography–that region between place and culture…between environment and imagination.”
– John Luther Adams

John Luther Adams has been hailed by the New Yorker as “one of the most original musical thinkers of the new century.” After studying at the California Institute of the Arts, Adams embarked on a prolific career encompassing a variety of genres and media, including television, film, children’s theater, voice, acoustic instruments, orchestra, and electronics. His Pulitzer Prize and Grammy Award-winning orchestral composition, Become Ocean, has become one of the most popular concert pieces in the modern repertoire.

Much of John Luther Adams’ work as a composer and, increasingly, a conceptual artist is rooted in his love of nature combined with what he calls the “resonances” of a particular environment. For the Wind Garden, his installation commissioned by the Stuart Collection at UC San Diego, that environment is a eucalyptus grove located in the campus Theater District. Based on a carefully determined site plot, 32 accelerometers were attached to the highest branches, measuring the movements of the trees in the wind. As the velocity of the wind changes so, too, does the amplitude of the sound. Tonal variations and harmonic colors are provided by two virtual “choirs,” a Day Choir tuned to the natural harmonic series, and a Night Choir tuned to the sub-harmonic series. The results are broadcast by 32 small loudspeakers hidden among the trees. Both volume and pitch change in real time throughout the day and with the sun’s movement over the course of the seasons.

Because the composition is driven entirely by wind and the sun’s light, it never repeats itself. The listener is surrounded by sounds that vaguely recall bells, voices, strings, and other acoustic instruments, but it’s impossible to describe them in just those familiar terms or to know their exact source. Like some of Adams’ other recent pieces, the Wind Garden has been described as “indeterminate,” but the composer argues that it’s more accurate to call it “self-determining,” not reliant on musicians or conventional instruments. Rather, Adams notes that “the trees are the instruments” while acknowledging the sophisticated technology employed to “give voice” to the trees.

Adams hopes that each unique encounter with the Wind Garden and its rich, ever-shifting harmonic palette will encourage both “deep listening” and an enhanced appreciation of the natural environment.

Watch The Wind Garden by John Luther Adams – Stuart Collection at UC San Diego

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An Evening With Luis Alberto Urrea

In many respects the life and work of Luis Alberto Urrea represent the fulfillment of the fabled American Dream. Born in Tijuana to an American mother and Mexican father, Urrea was raised in the Barrio Logan and Clairemont neighborhoods of San Diego. Often confined indoors because of poor health, the young Luis developed an avid interest in reading that was encouraged by his parents, though it didn’t occur to him then that he could be a professional writer.

As an undergraduate Urrea attended UC San Diego, which, in his words, “opened the door to a whole new world,” a world of Latin-American literature populated by Fuentes, Garcia Marquez, Borges, Llosa, Neruda, and others. Spurred on by their example, and encouraged by his professors and by noted author Ursula K. LeGuin, Urrea embarked on a prolific career as a writer. Indeed, not merely a writer but a true man of letters: poet, novelist, essayist, columnist, journalist, scholar, and educator.

Though not strictly autobiographical, much of Urrea’s work is inspired by his own experiences and those of his family. In the spirit of “write what you know,” he has often based characters on his relatives and other people he has encountered. Urrea is perhaps best known for his writings about the US-Mexico border region, but he points out that his true subject is not that physical border but “the borders that run between us, all of us.” Whatever his subjects or their source, Urrea’s work is marked by his distinctive voice, combining keen observation, rigorous research, fine attention to detail, an ear for the vernacular, a strong sense of social justice, a wry sense of humor, and, above all, a love for the real persons and invented characters about whom he writes.

While recounting his personal journey in his “Dinner in the Library” appearance, Urrea stresses the vital importance of education in shaping his worldview and guiding his career development. He believes that his work as an educator, currently as Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Illinois at Chicago, enables him to celebrate his social and literary legacy while hopefully serving as inspiration for new generations of aspiring writers. By encouraging his students to mine their own heritage for source material, Urrea honors those who supported him at key points in his life.

Watch An Evening with Luis Alberto Urrea – Dinner in the Library 2018

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Oddities: Scripps’ Fascinating Collection of Ocean Life

From super vision and invisibility to protective armor and the ability to create electricity to zap prey, marine creatures do amazing things every day that stretch even the wildest imagination.
Join the team from the world-renowned Scripps Oceanographic Collections, where millions of specimens allow scientists to understand some of the amazing adaptations marine creatures have developed to survive. Get an insider’s view into fascinating creatures in these irreplaceable scientific collections.

Watch Oddities: Scripps’ Fascinating Collection of Ocean Life

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Imagination and Human Origins

Try to remember the first time in your life when you imagined something. It may have been imagining what was behind the door or under the bed, or a fantastic universe of wonders and exciting adventure. As children, our imaginations are furtive and encouraged as ways in which we develop our cognitive capabilities. As we grow older, we may not imagine in quite the same ways, but we continue to heavily use and depend on our imagination in our daily lives, imagining different situations that might occur in a few moments or in a few years. Thus, we actually spend a large amount of time in our own particular universe imagining many possible different ones.

Why do we do this and how did this capacity evolve in humans? Imagination probably helped our ancestors to be successful in making decisions and live in complex societies, and imagination is key to advancing technology. In this CARTA symposium, imagination is explored as a unique and enhanced human ability, and experts from all fields discuss its evolutionary origins, the fundamental genetic and neurological basis of human imagination, the impact of human imagination in science and art, and the consequences of imagination impairment.

Browse more programs in CARTA: Imagination and Human Origins

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Jazz – Discipline and Spontaneity

“Most of us would say that inventing meaning while letting loose is the essence and promise of jazz.”
– Robert Christgau

From its origins in the African-American community of New Orleans in the late 19th century jazz has evolved into the premiere all-American art form, and has been labeled “America’s classical music.” By the 1920’s the genre had been embraced by the mainstream to such an extent that the Twenties and Thirties were declared “the Jazz Age” by author F. Scott Fitzgerald, and European composers including Stravinsky and Ravel incorporated jazz elements into their work.

Developing from roots in country blues, ragtime, field hollers, and spirituals, jazz music is notoriously difficult to define as it embraces many subgenres, among them Dixieland, swing, bebop, hard bop, cool jazz, free jazz, Afro-Cuban, modal jazz, jazz fusion, post-bop, and Latin jazz. However varied these styles, they do share some commonalities, chief among them an emphasis on live performance and on improvisation. Classical music performance is judged by fidelity to the written score and the composer’s intentions; by contrast jazz is more often characterized by interaction and collaboration in the moment. Less value is placed on the composer’s contribution and more on the individual musician’s interpretations of melodies, harmonies, and time signatures. Whereas classical music recordings strive to capture a definitive performance of a given work, jazz recordings document just one interpretation of a piece at a particular moment in time. Because of its improvisational nature no two jazz interpretations are alike, and there are no absolutes. It’s an art form that finds its purest expression in live performance, such as in the UC San Diego Jazz Camp’s Finale Concert.

UC San Diego Jazz Camp is an annual week-long intensive workshop for students aged 14 and older. Attendees are mentored by a distinguished faculty of music professionals and educators in a variety of jazz-related topics, including theory, composition, improvisation, critical listening, technology, performance practice, and ensemble performance. Students are grouped into ensembles under the tutelage of a faculty member, and rehearse standards and original compositions for the Camp’s Finale Concert before an audience of family, friends, and jazz aficionados. In the process student musicians are introduced to that combination of group interplay and individual expression, of discipline and spontaneity, that is unique to jazz.

Watch Finale Concert Highlights – UC San Diego Jazz Camp 2018

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