Published April 15, 2015
Places affect people in ways that tap all of the senses. It could be the long shadows of late afternoon cast by the aging pines surrounding a ramshackle cabin, or the sound of exhausted waves struggling to reach a deserted beach, or even the thick, smog-burdened heat a crowded city.
But the influence flows both ways.
People affect places, too, establishing a call-and-response that speaks to a mutual experience.
“This is the point of reciprocity between a specific place and the people who interact with it,” says Stanzi Vaubel, a graduate student in the Department of Media Study, College of Arts and Sciences, who is collaborating with fellow graduate student Su Hyun Nam on “Sites Do Things to People,” a multimedia performance featuring acoustic cello, electronics and narrative that opens a portal of understanding to Buffalo’s Silo City, the cluster of repurposed grain elevators that today serves as an urban destination of art and commerce.
There are three performances: 7 p.m. April 17 in the Center for the Arts, North Campus; 2 p.m. April 18 at Silo City, 200 Childs St., Buffalo; and 7 p.m. April 29 at Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center, 341 Delaware Ave., Buffalo.
The performances are not multimedia recreations of a place, but what Nam and Vaubel call an “organized sense of the accidental that creates the potential for a complete sensory experience of the site.”
Against a documentary backdrop of ambient sound and conversation, Vaubel, a cellist, performs on stage using an instrument programmed to respond to Nam’s hand motions, accomplishing effects that might otherwise be generated by a foot pedal.
Nam and Vaubel, who collaborated with sound designer John “Lazlo” Shotwell and lighting sceneographer Carlie Todoro-Rickus, spent a year gathering sound and conversation at Silo City, where creative possibility has replaced the towers’ original industrial intent.
They are among the artists who now see the site as both art and art destination.
That’s easily realized walking around the complex, but the two immediately heard it upon entering the silos, which carry and enrich sound like soaring concrete musical instruments.
Vaubel wanted to create a score as original as the acoustic properties of the building. She says the cello calls out to the space while the space calls back, instrument to instrument.
Nam, meantime, was fascinated by the opportunity to digitally interact and manipulate these sounds.
“We wanted to build improvisations around the rhythms and tonal qualities of the reverb,” says Vaubel.
“We produced a lot of our pieces this way, blurring the lines between the natural delay of the space itself and how those delays are affected by electronics,” says Nam.
The resulting performance is an expression derived from a perspective inspired by listening and responding to the properties, stories and culture emerging from Silo City.
“This is part documentary, but it’s also a sonic and visual experimentation that the audience will get to experience as they listen and watch the process of creation unfold,” Nam says.