Neil Leonard Creates Immersive Sound Installation at Williams College

Colette Greenstein
September 24, 2019
Press release

The sound installation will be on display through December 22, 2019.

Neil Leonard, artistic director of Berklee's Interdisciplinary Arts Institute
Image courtesy of the artist

Neil Leonard, artistic director of the Interdisciplinary Arts Institute at Berklee, has been appointed the Arthur J. Levitt ’52 Artist-in-Residence at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where he will teach two courses in electronic music this fall.

Leonard's residency, which is designed to foster dialogue between academic departments, coincides with his site-specific sound installation Sonance for the Precession Williams College Museum of Art. The public artwork is open now and will run through December 22.

“I was excited about creating a work that explored ancient connections between astronomy and music.”

—Neil Leonard

The piece is presented in quadraphonic sound and uses an algorithm based on planetary motion to place sounds within the quad, where it is heard daily for 30 minutes before sunset. It invites listeners to discover their own connections between sound, sunset, and the sciences. The sounds were performed live in Leonard’s studio using alto saxophone and electronics. Preparing the piece required intensive work, from designing ways to process the saxophone to writing music, and recording and mixing the vignettes.

“We are thrilled to have Neil Leonard in residence at Williams, and to present Sonance for the Precession,” said Lisa Dorin, deputy director for curatorial affairs and curator of contemporary art at the museum. “With its interdisciplinary and collaborative reach among music, art, and astronomy, Neil's project aligns beautifully with the program at the museum, in which a number of projects this fall explore the multisensory, the imaginary, and the body in space." 

Dorin collaborated with Leonard in brainstorming a location for the site-specific installation. She first suggested the Hopkins Observatory, the oldest observatory in the country, last fall. “I was excited about creating a work that explored ancient connections between astronomy and music,” said Leonard.

The installation explores ancient ideas connecting the precession (the slow movement of the axis of a spinning body around another axis) of the equinox with the harmonic series, and provides a context to reflect on how Hindu and Greek theories of astronomy and acoustics developed through intercultural exchange. Sonance for the Precession also highlights the presence of the Hopkins Observatory, and questions how astronomy can inform modern artistic practice.  

Neil Leonard

A highly accomplished sound artist, saxophonist, and composer, Leonard has performed and recorded with a variety of artists during his 30-year career, including 2019 Grammy Award winner Terence Blanchard, jazz pianist Joanne Brackeen, and Grammy-winning Cuban rumba ensemble, Los Muñequitos de Matanzas. He has also composed music for many art installations, including Matanzas Sound Map for the 2017 art exhibition documenta 14 in Kassel, Germany, with Cuban-born artist MarÍa Magdalena Campos-Pons.

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