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A Subtropic 'Frozen Music' Picnic

Photo: From L. to R.: David Dunn, Gustavo Matamoros, Rene Barge
Written by: Dan Dickinson
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The green lawn at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden was raucous on this Sunday afternoon with the calls of frogs, cicadas, crickets, and birds. The event was Frozen Music: Picnic 5, and the sounds were courtesy of the three unassuming gentlemen who call themselves Frozen Music, seated at a folding table behind laptops, an awning tilted at a jaunty angle to best block the afternoon sun.

The three men -- Gustavo Matamoros, Rene Barge, and David Dunn -- have been performing their live sound installations in Miami and elsewhere since 2009. An ensemble of sound artists, each brings a vast personal library of sounds that they have recorded over the years in various places using various techniques. Matamoros was most recently spending time in the Everglades, and those sounds featured prominently in the mix this day: animals that you sort of recognize but probably can’t name. Dunn, based in Santa Fe, has gained some renown for his innovative work recording bark beetles inside trees. Barge, who like Matamoros lives in South Florida, features a strong visual component in his individual work.

As Matamoros previously explained to Artburst, each artist improvises a four-channel audio experience right there on the spot. The three individual products are then combined into what emerges from the four speakers: “In essence, what is happening in Frozen Music is that each of us designs his own system of sound production and his own strategies for producing sounds that actually come out of the speakers. We don’t rehearse. We simply think of these systems as ecology. When you think of the mockingbirds: there’s a flock of mockingbirds in the botanical garden, and they’re doing what they’re doing. In the meantime the cars are going by. There’s no relationship between the cars and the mockingbirds. But when you’re sitting there you can make a relationship by simply listening in certain ways.”

On a marbled rock on the edge of the lawn, beneath the sweet rotten smell of a clown fig tree, Artburst sat and worked on that relationship. The sensation was like being transported aurally into a nighttime wilderness with some curious additions: some eight-bit electronics burbled underneath, and a howling sound from the speakers played counterpoint against the birthday party that was happening in the shade.

It all works perfectly in the Botanical Garden: like most gardens, it’s an artificial landscape made of manipulated nature. That’s exactly what Frozen Music was doing: starting with nature, manipulating it, and producing an artificial soundscape. It maintains the connection to its source, but allows us to experience it in a situation that would not be possible without human intervention.

The speakers were covered in black plastic to protect them from the rain that kept threatening. Frustrated by what she took to be an artistic deception, a little girl insisted: “Everybody knows it comes from these. Why cover it up?” In our daily lives, we might be more adept at mentally covering up and ignoring the sound itself. How often do we sit and ponder the droning omnipresent music of the South Florida air conditioner?

Frozen Music appeared at Miami Beach Botanical Garden on Sunday, September 21. You can find out more at http://subtropics.org/frozen-music. 

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About The writer

Music writer, musician, composer

Dan Dickinson is a composer, improviser, and bassist living in Miami. He especially enjoys the challenge of creating meaningful works in real-time..

About the Writer

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