MISSOULA – University of Montana students and faculty collaborated across disciplines to create a multimedia piece featuring narration, computer music, dance and animation that artistically translates how the sounds of the rivers influence waterway ecosystems.
“Sounds of Rivers: Stone Drum,” which will be showcased in the annual UM “Dance in Concert” production, illustrates how science and fine arts can come together to document valuable research and tell a compelling story.
UM Flathead Lake Biological Station Associate Professor Mark Lorang records the sounds of rivers in Montana as part of his geomorphology research. The natural symphony of sounds, which serve as a guide and map for the ecosystems surrounding waterways, appeals to a greater human desire to understand rivers in a personal way.
“I think everybody wants to relate to rivers,” Lorang said. “What they sound like, what they look like, what’s underneath. There’s been poetry written about babbling brooks for thousands of years. There’s more interest in a river than the physics of the sediment transport or the flow hydraulics.”
Lorang and Stephen Kalm, dean of the UM College of Visual and Performing Arts, started a dialogue about the artistic potential for his research. When composer and UM School of Music Associate Professor Charles Nichols got involved, the project really took off.
The final product is a breathtaking multimedia show featuring computer music composed by Nichols; poetry written by renowned local poet Mark Gibbons and narrated by Kalm; digital animation by UM School of Media Arts master’s candidate and adjunct instructor Amber Bushnell; and dance choreographed by UM School of Theatre & Dance Associate Professor Nicole Bradley Browning and performed by student Allison Herther.
The piece features a complex interconnectedness of the different media. Nichols’ composition combines processing of the poetry’s text and different aspects of the river’s sound to control the pitch, speed and pressure of a digital violin performance. During the show, he will perform live electric violin to correspond with music mentioned in Gibbon’s poem. While the sound swirls around the audience, it also connects to Bushnell’s computer animation, influencing the color and movement of the images that play across a large screen and on Herther’s flowing white gown, which spans the entire stage.
The grand scale of the production speaks to the passion across campus for research and artistic expression.
“Mark’s research and his approach to his research are inspirational,” Nichols said. “And his enthusiasm for collaborating with our artists to illuminate that research for the public is exciting and contagious. It allowed me to collaborate with artists I’ve wanted to work with since moving to UM.”
“Dance in Concert,” which also features other performances by UM students and faculty, will be held at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, May 8-11, in the Montana Theatre of the Performing Arts and Radio/Television Center. Tickets cost $20 for the public, $16 for seniors and students and $10 for children age 12 and younger. They are available for purchase at the UMArts Box Office in the PAR/TV Center Lobby from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and one hour before the show, or by calling 406-243-4581.
For more information on “Sounds of Rivers,” call Nichols at 406-243-5360 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo cutline: UM student Allison Herther performs “Sounds of Rivers: Stone Drum.” Photo by UM journalism student Amelia Hufsmith.