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Florasonic in Bloom at Lincoln Park Conservatory

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An audio sample of Round the creep of the wave line, by composers and musicians Boris Hauf and Keefe Jackson, the current Florasonic installation at the Lincoln Park Conservatory.

Anyone who has visited the Lincoln Park Conservatory has probably noticed there’s a lot to be seen and heard. Since 2002, the Experimental Sound Studio has been curating Florasonic, a program that commissions composers and artists to make new site-specific music and audio art installations in the conservatory’s Fern Room.

The Fern Room, also called the Fernery, contains countless ferns, fern allies, liverwarts, moss, horsetails, and cycads. Some of these species are hundreds of millions of years old, older than flowering plants (which includes everything from trees to flowers to grass). The oldest plant in the Fern Room is a Sago Palm, technically neither fern for palm, which is between 150-200 years old — and thus is older than the conservatory itself, built between 1890 and 1895.

Florasonic bloomed when sound artist M.W. Burns encouraged Lou Mallozzi, executive director of the Experimental Sound Studio, to explore the conservatory as a site for a sound installation. Mallozzi was pleased that the conservatory was interested in hosting an ongoing series of installations, rather than just a single iteration of the project.

The Fern Room “has a very specific climate and feel to the space – a rain forest-like environment,” and became Florasonic’s natural habitat, Mallozzi said. The turn-of-the-century greenhouse “offered a lot of possibilities because it’s somewhat isolated from the other spaces, and acoustically, it’s almost totally isolated,” he added.

“For a lot of people it’s a fairly contemplative site,” he explained, “so it’s not the kind of place where a really aggressive approach really works. We ask the artists to consider the physical, conceptual, and social dimensions to the space.”

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Composers and musicians Boris Hauf and Keefe Jackson in the Fern Room

The current Florasonic installation is titled Round the creep of the wave line by composers and musicians Boris Hauf and Keefe Jackson.

“We collected a few sounds that we were interested in and put them together in a way that complements the environment of the Fern Room,” Jackson said. “We wanted to find a natural way to have the sounds coexist in the space with the ferns. We didn’t want to interfere with the ferns. We didn’t have any specific ideas, we really let the project evolve naturally.”

Round the creep combines recordings of plants growing, amplifying and ornamenting their natural sounds, with recordings of synthesized and acoustic instruments, presented with 4-channel analog and digital processing.

Mallozzi described the installation as a “delicate work” that focuses on the “interplay between ambient sounds and its own harmonic textures, and this notion of distance and sparseness.” Mallozzi explained that the artists explore “the timbre of reed instruments, more than their melodic potential” which they combined with “lightly applied sounds like distant piano or other ephemeral musical gestures.”

Round the creep will be exhibited through May 31, 2015. This Friday, May 22, at 3:30 pm, Hauf and Jackson come to the Fern Room for a live performance that interacts with their installation.

“For the performance we are going to use material from the installation, and I will be there with my clarinet and saxophone playing live, and Boris will be there playing saxophone and electronics,” Jackson said. “We’re going to try to interact with the installation,” which is played through four speakers dispersed in the corners of the Fern Room.

For more information about Florasonic and the upcoming performance in conjunction with Round the creep, click here.

For more information about the Lincoln Park Conservatory, click here.

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