Monday, July 13, 2009

when music was made by solid rock...

luray caverns 7" record cover

many people have commented regarding a post i made last week about some folks in a cave listening to a radio, in relation to the luray caverns. i posted something about luray a long while ago, but have been unable to find that post through google's mysteriously unhelpful "search this blog" function.

so i set about looking for something in the real mess, and lo and behold i was able to put my hands on the 7" souvenir record from luray that not only has a beautiful cover, but some mysteriously wonderful music.(and i do believe it came into my possession from the collection of mr. bloggs, who runs the gregory ain park planned home blog)

here a bit of the liner notes:

the music on this record is made by solid rock. it comes from the great stalacpipe organ, only one of its kind inf the world, in the beautiful caverns of luray, luray virginia. deep in the caverns, in the walls of a large catherdral like chamber, stalactites are played like the pipes of an organ, producing musical tones that you hear on your record. stalactite after stalactite - those stony icicles and draperies hanging from the ceiling, have been turned by a grinding process to concert pitch. each one is equipped with a striking mechanism, a rubber tipped plunger that, fired by the impulse of an electric discharge, strikes the stalactite and brings forth a musical tone...making the recording was in itself something of an engineering feat. the microphone, like the listening audience, was centrally located and the music came from all sides. natural sounds, such as the splash of water dripping from the stalactites are an inevitable and interesting part of the record.

thanks to jeremey of ampersand etc. for reminding me and my feeble memory, that we dedicated a section of the book "site of sound" to the luray caverns organ, particularly deciding to include it because of its peculiar approach to site specific sound (and sounding). it is nice that the luray folks mentioned the natural dripping sounds in this recording on the sleeve, because it is a rare breed of instrument that can only be recorded as a field recording, not because of social reasons such as with rural or ethnographic recordings, but because the instrument itself exists in the world and is built of the world, and can only be heard within its natural soundscape.

click here to listen to the entirety of this little record.

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Blogger ArtSparker said...

This making me think of counter tenors...the grinding process.

2:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I visited Luray Caverns a few years back and toured the cave. For each tour the organ plays a few bars of "oh shenandoah" as it is now automated. You can also arrange to be married in the cavern and have the organ available for that purpose. There is also a carillon which is also automated and plays at, I think, 6 o'clock each day for 30 or so minutes. I have unedited recordings of both. I really enjoy both experiences.

9:48 AM  
Blogger K. R. Seward said...

Thanks for the cool post.


UbuWeb has a cool entry on the organ with another recording made and info:

And according to the Wiki entry on The Great Stalacpipe Organ, there are some more recordings online.

Thanks again.

11:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to be a downer about this, but turning a natural pristine habitat into an organ damages the ecosystem for all of the organisms that may have been inhabiting that cave. Enjoying something like this is like enjoying a musical instrument made out of the Great Barrier Reef. Just something to think about...

7:50 PM  
Blogger sroden said...

hi anonymous...

well, the organ was built a long time ago when folks had little awareness or respect for natural resources, we have now; and the earth had yet to be pummeled by humans to the degree it is today.

in many ways, getting people inside a cave and experiencing nature - and human ingenuity - in such a place, probably created a very strong connection to the beauty beneath the surface, and gave people an awareness of nature (remember they were not just down there to hear an organ, but to also experience and see a part of the earth they had not previously had access to). in some ways, places like luray helped preserve nature much more than they suggested we desecrate it and "gussy" it up.

the organ itself is pretty darn wonderful bit of ingenuity, and in terms of using natural space and resources towards a work of art, was a precursor to even more sensitive "collaborations" with nature, such as spiral jetty.

one would hope that if an "instrument" that exploited the natural acoustic properties of the great barrier reef was developed today, it would be in sympathy with the existing ecosystem, and of course more sensitive to concerns like yours. obviously, in terms of protecting natural environments, we have a long way to go.

if you are disturbed by such things, and want to bring about an awareness of such problems, there is an overwhelming number of situations and issues relevant to the destruction of our natural environment today. i think it would be a stretch to suggest such discussions need to begin with an organ built in a small cavern 60+ years ago.

in relation to sound art, there are a number of sound artists, such as chris watson, who are working with essentially photographic recordings of sounds of natural landscapes, and presenting them towards a better appreciation of what we hear in nature. this work is surrounded by conversations, generally regarding how our natural soundscapes are being consumed by industrial sounds. there is an entire culture of sound artists who record natural environments to bring about such an awareness, towards maintaining a relationship to the sounds of nature, as opposed to the sounds of culture. chris has done some great audio documentaries for the bbc you might want to look into.

r. murray schaeffer's writings on acoustic ecology might be something for you to look into as well.

honestly, being interested in such issues today, does not mean one has to feel guilty about enjoying a wonderful bit of folk art, birthed out of a simpler time.

8:48 AM  

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