Students in David Bird's Introduction to Music, Sound, and Technology class composed music to be listened to at areas in Root Glen.
Meandering through Hamilton’s Root Glen with nothing but a pair of headphones and a phone, you find yourself on a journey through the intertwining of music and nature.
Entao Xie '24
Entao Xie '24 listens to a muscial composition in Root Glen. Photo: Zack Stanek

The students of Music 270, under the direction of Visiting Professor of Music David Bird, each have composed a short musical piece designed to be listened to at several locations along the red shale paths. Accessible on any device through the Echo app is a map for listeners to chart their course through the various “zones” of music. As one walks along, they are enveloped in a series of soundscapes, from soothing classical jazz to a foreboding sense of horror. Although the journey is varied in this way, the class collectively agreed that the experience was nothing short of “ethereal.”

When starting this project, Bird asked his students to step outside of their comfort zones in exploring digital music. “We naturally spend a lot of time around computers and in solitary listening environments,” he said. “I wanted to create an opportunity for students to compose music for an outdoor space ... to think about the Glen like an instrument.”

“Musical ideas such as material, form, or gesture may be perceived differently when experienced in a physical environment.”

The result is an explosion of creativity in the ears of the listener; Benjamin Joiner ’22 told his classmates about how he recorded on a rainy day, using the weather conditions to his advantage. “I wanted to highlight how the rain hit so many different sounds and the chaos of that,” he noted while referring to how the rain bounced off the giant leaves framing his assigned area. “I was thinking about the journey.”

To experience the walk: 

1. Download the Echoes app for your phone and allow it to know your location.

2. Download or Stream - "Music 270 Sound Walk at Hamilton College"

3. Plug in your headphones and enjoy a walk in the Glen!

Download or Stream Sound Walk

Using the skills learned in class, some students also created entirely new sounds to drop into their compositions. Mateo Gomez ’24, assigned to a clearing deep within the glen, decided to simulate the stalking of a monster. “I like scary,” he said. “All the sounds were sounds I made: the growling, the howling, the wind blowing, all me!” The emptiness of Gomez’s location mixed with the anxiety-inducing breathing of a pseudo-monster came together to create a horror movie in real life.

At the core of this project lies a fundamental belief of Bird’s: “Musical ideas such as material, form, or gesture may be perceived differently when experienced in a physical environment.” Framing a location in a piece of music tells its story, and nowhere is that more evident than in Joseph Park’s ’23 composition.

Park’s project location extends from the base of a steep hill to its middle point, and he framed the emotion of trekking up it in his tone shifts. “I wanted to give a mellow, ambient vibe in the beginning [but] an eerie dark tone later on,” he said. The climb was harrowing and dark, but when the middle was reached, the song returned to that same, easy, ambient peacefulness. In essence, Park’s song relates not only to the hill itself, but to its audience as well.

There is no doubt that the Root Glen is a special place to all who observe it normally, but its magic has only been boosted by Bird and his students. All who have walked through have had a unique experience all their own, from “peering into a memory” to “hearing the trees speak” to Bird’s own feeling of “walking through a video game.”

He encourages audiences to be “creative and adventurous in their exploration” as they walk along the path, to take this unique experience and make their own interpretation of it, just as his students did. While this pairing of nature and music may be impermanent, the memory of experiencing it will last forever.

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