|I recently finished work on the soundtrack for Stephanie Lewis Robertson’s fabric art installation, The Infinite Moment of Now, that will be on display at the Indianapolis Art Center from Friday, June 10 until Sunday, July 31, 2011.|
|Fabric panel by Stephanie Lewis Robertson|
The Events Informing The Work
The exhibition explores the experience of our spiritual community when Stephanie’s husband, Tom, suffered a stroke and was hospitalized for several weeks in the summer of 2009.
Immediately after Tom’s stroke the situation didn’t look especially promising. Within 24 hours Tom went from eating dinner at a restaurant with Stephanie to lying still in a medically induced coma in the Neurological Critical Care Unit at Methodist Hospital (Indianapolis).
Tom and Steph’s friends flocked to surround them with prayer and love and care. People sent Reiki, prayed, did energy work, sang in the waiting rooms and at his bedside, made prayer flags, cards, and posters which adorned his room. Close friends came and sat with Tom all hours of the day and night. It was scary, it was beautiful. It was intimate, it was overwhelming. Technology joined with spirituality as medical skill moved through healing energy.
Sitting in that hospital room alone with Tom every night, alarms going off over the hypnotic noises of pumps and the respirator, was, perhaps strangely, the most connected to the gentle loving truth of Spirit I have ever felt. I sat quietly, grounding excessive energy, taking notes about alarms and meds and Tom’s reactions for Steph to look over in the morning. I read books and researched strokes and brain function. The most helpful, hopeful and compelling of these books was My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Bolte Taylor. Steph and I both devoured it within the first 48 hours of Tom’s admission. All the while I felt the presence of Spirit, in all Her forms, moving like waves over Tom. In that hospital room I became certain that peaceful, healing intention creates effects that are palpable and lingering. This was a time I will never forget.
Steph and I talked in the hospital about the possible lasting effects of this experience, how it might change our lives and the lives of the other people in our community. She felt that her next exhibition of work would be greatly informed by all we were now going through, whatever the outcome might be.
Tom recovered within a few short months, surprising his doctors and delighting all of us involved in his healing. His life is not the same, and he still struggles with fatigue and decision making, but he remains our friend Tom, the man we knew before, only with a different understanding of love. “Love,” said Tom in a sermon delivered at his church after his stroke, “is not quantitative. It’s not reciprocal, you don’t get back just what you give. It’s something else entirely.”
|Fabric panel by Stephanie Lewis Robertson|
The Inception of Our Collaboration
For quite some time Stephanie and I have talked about working together to create something that could engage an audience on more than one level. She is a master of visual expression, though music is also a very important part of her life. I love the fluidity of her fabric art, which to me has a movement not unlike the wave motion that carries sound. I was humbled that she thought to ask me to work with her on such an important project.
For this work we both started with something that came directly from Tom’s time in the hospital.
Stephanie was clearly fascinated by the images of Tom’s brain on the CT scans that hung on the wall in his NCCU room. These were pictures in black and white, big film negatives with a light box behind them, just like you’ve seen on all the hospital shows on TV. Stephanie was moved by the delicate beauty of these images, and I often saw her looking at them and showing them to other people. At one point she remarked to me that she thought these images would find a place in her next body of work. All of the fabric panels in this exhibition utilize the CT scan images.
I was likewise fascinated by the sounds of the NCCU, and asked for permission to bring in recording equipment to capture them for use later on, possibly in conjunction with the work Stephanie was considering. I found the respirator sound to be somewhat hypnotic, the harsh white noise of the O2 humidifier to be extremely agitating, and the alarms and pumps to be variously soothing or startling. All were evocative. Hospital administration was kind enough to grant my request to sample these noises, and I brought in my small field recorder one night and captured the various sounds of Tom’s room.
Stephanie and I communicated briefly about our intentions for the piece before work began, but mostly created each part on our own. It delights me that the fabric art and the sound work together so well, but that speaks to our similar outlook and shared intention. Both of us set out to illuminate how a seemingly terrible experience such as this could actually bring new understanding and insight about life, love and Spirit into the lives of an entire community.
Listen to Sharon Gamble interview Stephanie Lewis Robertson about the installation on WFYI’s “Art of the Matter” radio program. Here’s the podcast link. Steph’s interview begins at 33:30 in the program.
The Sound Design
When I contemplated how best to portray Tom’s healing, I thought about what the experience had been and what it had meant, not just to me, not just to Steph, but to our entire community. I knew the hospital sounds had to be involved. I knew I needed to represent the variety of spiritual traditions that came together as one expression in support of Tom. I wanted to invoke the confusion, the peace, the healing and the injury, all the sounds as well as the holy silence. I spoke with Steph and her vision seemed to be quite similar to mine. As a matter of fact, after hearing the soundscape for the first time, Stephanie remarked, “It sounds exactly like I expected.” To me, that meant I got it right.
I decided early that I must do this project in some type of surround sound, because it was the only way to represent the depth and expansiveness of the experience. The piece is done in 4 channel audio. As the speaking and singing move throughout the room, not only is the observer drawn to experience different placements of the fabric panels, but this movement also mirrors how I experienced the healing energy of Spirit in Tom’s room; there was a flow to it, a coming and going.
While Tom was in the coma he was often very agitated, and we discovered that keeping jarring visual stimuli to a minimum, and providing soothing sounds to drown out the loud alarms and machines in his room, helped calm him down. We never would have figured this out without the valuable information contained in Jill Bolte Taylor’s wonderful book! I can still see Tom, in a coma, lying on the hospital bed with his sunglasses on and iPod earbuds in his ears.
One of Tom’s favorite places is the ocean, so we played field recordings of the ocean on his iPod for hours and hours. The soundscape I created starts off with the machine sounds providing the “breath” of the piece, but in the middle these sounds are replaced gradually by ocean sounds, and then later the machine noise fades back in. My intention is to take the listener from an observer’s viewpoint into Tom’s own awareness and then back out again.
In one moment of insight it dawned on me that the best way to represent what had happened within the context of our entire community was to have the community come together again and sing and pray just as they had when Tom was in the hospital. As it turned out, people were more than willing to do so. We gathered at UUI on a Sunday afternoon and people spoke and sang as they had two years ago while I recorded it all. There was no direction given other than to speak, sing or pray as one felt compelled to do. Later in my studio as I sat down to hear these words, songs and sounds, it became clear immediately that they fit together beautifully. Just as we had all offered up our separate perspectives and abilities to channel Tom’s healing, we now came together to perfectly represent that time and illuminate the gifts brought into our lives.
When I began to assemble the recording it was one of those times when I felt all I needed to do was show up and sit down in my studio and “do the next thing.” The piece felt like it mixed itself. Remarkably that’s the same feeling I had while Tom was in the hospital. I kept saying, “There’s times when you just need to show up and do the next thing that needs to be done.”
The soundscape ended up being a 25 minute piece in quad surround. It will play as a continuous loop in the room. The piece is designed to draw people from one area of room to another with speaking and singing coming from and moving through different areas. It was a thrill to work in a surround format for the first time. I can’t wait to do more work in multi-channel playback formats.
There is linear movement to the work, it has a beginning and an end, but it moves from one scene to another every few minutes, so it will also provide an interesting experience for someone who only spends 10 or 15 minutes in the exhibit.
After attempting to find a way to use an iPad or Android tablet to provide playback and finding no technology available for four track playback, I decided to use Sonar 6 on a HP netbook through a Native Instruments Audio Kontrol interface. The ultra-flat response Yamaha HS50M active monitors are perfect for this application. I made a custom cabinet for the playback rig out of an Itso cube I found at Target and modified to allow for airflow and provide hook ups for the security cables.
Large Ensemble Singers – Susan Burt, Marg Herder, Cathy Holmes, Becky Kincaid, Lucy McKoskey, Kathlene Mcnaney, Marty Miles, Pam Mueller, Stephanie Lewis Robertson, Jenni White, Judy Wolf
Small Ensemble Singers – Pam Blevins Hinkle, Ruth Hinkle, Aletha Hinkle
Speakers – Pastor Steven Sinclair, Mary Brumleve, Casey O’Leary, Eric Hinkle, Pam Mueller, Kinzua LeSeur, Diana Ensign, Judy Wolf, Jenni White
Crying – Stephanie Lewis Robertson
Recorded, Mixed and Mastered by Marg Herder