At 4 p.m. Sunday, April 21, 99 percussionists will perform an ecological musical composition titled "Inuksuit" in the Greek Theatre to commemorate Earth Day.
"Inuksuit" is an Inuit word meaning "to act in the capacity of the human," said John Luther Adams, the composer. Literally, "inuksuits" are stone markers that the Inuits have created for centuries in the Arctic.
But stones are just one component of the performance. Audience members can expect to hear percussion, bass drums and conch shells, said assistant professor of music Andy McGraw. McGraw said there would also be sirens used, and he predicted that the police might be called as a result.
The performance will begin with the percussionists standing with their instruments in the Greek Theatre, McGraw said. They will then disappear into the surrounding woods where their other instruments will be set up and they will begin to play. Because of how far apart the performers will be spread, stopwatches may be used in order to stay in sync, since they will not be able to hear each other playing.
The idea is that audience members will not be able to hear the entire performance at once, and that their neighbors will hear something completely different. "Every seat in the house is the best seat in the house," McGraw said.
At a typical concert, the audience has been "trained" in a strict and conventional way to sit, not make any noise and watch and listen to the performance, McGraw said. "Inuksuit," however, is designed to be the opposite. "We are creating a situation in which people don't know how to behave," McGraw said.
At past performances in other cities, not everyone has remained seated, McGraw said. Some have followed the performers into the woods, while others have done yoga or even begun to make out.
Adams, an Alaskan composer and environmental activist created the performance to confuse the boundary between natural sounds and man-made music, McGraw said. It is Adams' hope that the audience members will be tricked into hearing the sounds of the woods as the music is being played. "If people can learn to hear everyday sounds, life becomes more interesting," McGraw said.
"Inuksuit" will be performed in collaboration with three-time Grammy winner Eighth Blackbird, the chamber ensemble in residence at University of Richmond, McGraw said. Richmond students from the art, art history, theatre and dance departments will be performing, as well as percussionists from Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth University and other schools out of state to make up the 99 performers.
"Inuksuit" was written in 2009 and was designed for between nine and 99 percussionists, any multiple of three, Adams said. This is because there are three families of instruments or sounds in the performance: drums, metal and air. Each performance ends up being unique because the number of performers varies, and it it tailored to the specific location.
"Inuksuit" was first performed in the Canadian Rockies four years ago, Adams said, and since then has been performed in Chicago, New York, Texas, South Carolina and California, as well as internationally in Brazil, Australia and throughout Europe. Adams said he was excited for the performance at Richmond because of its timeliness with the spring season, when songbirds are prevalent.
Adams will also hold a lecture, "In Search of an Ecology of Music," Saturday, April 20 at 7:30 p.m. in Camp Concert Hall, where he will talk about his ecological approach to composing. Both the talk and the concert are free.
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