FAIRBANKS — The sound of the land, “nuna,” is changing, from minute glacial calving to expansive coastal erosion. So, “Naalagiagvik,” The Place Where You Go to Listen, must change, too.
Grammy- and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer John Luther Adams created the sound installation, The Place Where You Go to Listen, at the University of Alaska Museum of the North 10 years ago. With it, he hoped to create a space to connect people to the sounds of the North occurring all around them just beyond discernibility.
The installation was created in 2006 with funding from the Rasmuson Foundation.
On July 1, Rasmuson announced the dispersal of another $104,000 to update and upgrade the installation. The upgrades will include the addition of new loudspeakers, new flooring, a new interpretive display, new hardware and software to run the program and a new feature: a “puff” anemometer, to measure wind at the museum and integrate the corresponding auditory signifier into the algorithm.
The upgrades will begin in autumn 2016.
The Place Where You Go to Listen is a small, thin room with a single bench. Five glass panels cover the wall in front of the bench, lit from above and below with colorful light reflecting the Earth’s movement through the seasons as well as the day.
Out of view, are a series of speakers, playing music through an algorithm designed by Adams to convey the language of Interior Alaska in the rumblings of its fault lines and the singing of its aurora.
The changes are not so much a shift in direction for The Place as they are the realization of Adams’ original intent, according to museum spokeswoman Theresa Bakker.
It was always in the plan, Bakker said, to do more with the installation, to focus first on getting it open and then to come back and add to it.
The technological upgrades alone will be significant, according to Bakker.
“You can imagine 10 years ago,” Bakker said, “the technology that was available then was going to be very different (than today).”
As have the scientific instruments from which The Place pulls its raw data about Alaska’s seismic and auroral activity, according to the museum’s fine arts curator, Mareca Guthrie.
Guthrie manages the Rose Berry Alaska Art Gallery on the museum’s top floor, in which The Place Where You Go to Listen is housed. Though Adams’ installation might seem out of place in a fine arts gallery, where one might expect to see only things such as paintings and photographs, the piece actually fits perfectly with the Rose Berry Alaska Art Gallery, according to Guthrie.
Like Adams’ installation, the gallery as a whole defies categorization. Unlike many fine arts galleries, it puts traditional Alaska Native crafts alongside landscape paintings and Ansel Adams photographs.
With access to so much fine art online, Guthrie said, people today often forget the importance of places like museums. The beauty of museums is not so much the congregation of art they offer, but rather the forced slowing, the elongated gaze, the space as a gateway between art and audience.
In that way, The Place Where You Go to Listen is a perfect fit.
“There’s a lot of value in really slowing down and just looking very carefully at one piece or two pieces,” Guthrie said. “I think this is so valuable.”
Adams is an American composer whose music evokes a sense of place, especially in nature. Much of his work has been dedicated to Alaska. He lived in Fairbanks from 1978 to 2014, during which time he played with the Fairbanks Symphony Orchestra.
The Place Where You Go to Listen takes its name from Inupiat, from a spot on the coast of the Arctic Ocean where legend tells of a woman who would sit quietly among the plants and the birds and the water and hear the language of nature.
Contact staff writer Weston Morrow at 459-7520. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMschools.