Emerging musician Adam Waugh spent the month of October-- this year the peak of Northern Michigan's fall-- at ISLAND's Hill House, where he dedicated days of solitude to honing his musicianship. Following are his words of reflection along with photos he made during his residency.
I arrived at the ISLAND residency after several months of travel along the east coast ready to explore all the material and ideas I had bouncing around my head.
It was an amazing time of year to be nestled in the woods of northern Michigan with the leaves changing color and the weather sunny and warm. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to witness the transformation of summer into fall. Towards the end of my first week of stay at the Hill House I was given the opportunity to play a show at Short’s Brewery. Short’s is one of my favorite breweries so I felt very honored to be able to play a show there. It was nice to come out of the woods and perform for a live audience. The experience gave me a chance to try out some new material and to reflect on what it is I want to express in performing live music. Thanks to the Short’s crew for allowing me the opportunity!
A good amount of time during my residency was spent reflecting on musicians, writers, and albums that have inspired and influenced me over the years. I kept returning to the many ways in which culture and current events influence art. It is hard to escape such influences in this age of information. Being alone in the woods is one way to do so and it was interesting to observe how my music and my experience of sound changed over the course of my residency.
I am constantly exploring sound in its myriad forms and originations. It has always been fascinating to me how environment and surroundings influence the songs I write. The beauty of being alone in the woods lies to some extent in being able to control the forms and the amount of media and noise you are consuming. At the Hill House I was able to step away from the news of the day and all the background noise our society generates. Having lived in New York City all summer I had been inundated with sound, noise, and culture at its most extreme and diverse. To go from that environment to a space of silence, retreat, and solitude was quite an intense and welcome transition!
Once I settled in to a daily rhythm at the Hill House I found my senses opening to and absorbing all the sounds and patterns of the woods and my surrounding environment. Even in this space away from the noise of society I found the sound of my own system to be deafening at times. Anyone who has spent an extended amount of time in solitude knows how much noise one’s own mind can generate in such a space. I recalled an interview with the composer John Cage. In 1951, Cage visited the anechoic chamber at Harvard University. An anechoic chamber is a room designed in such a way that the walls, ceiling and floor absorb all sounds made in the room, rather than reflecting them as echoes. Such a chamber is also externally sound-proofed. Cage entered the chamber expecting to hear silence, but he wrote later, "I heard two sounds, one high and one low. When I described them to the engineer in charge, he informed me that the high one was my nervous system in operation, the low one my blood in circulation." Cage had gone to a place where he expected total silence, and yet heard sound. Cage was inspired to compose the piece 4’ 33” from this experience. In this piece Cage sits at his piano in silence and allows the sounds around him to come to the attention of the audience and in essence form the piece of music. My experience at the ISLAND Residency was similar to Cage’s experience in that, as time passed I found my mind moving deeper into silence and my ability to listen expanding. In what most would consider to be a silent space I was beginning to hear a symphony of sounds. The sounds of the forest began to influence my music. My music became an extension of the natural rhythms I was enmeshed in every day.
Silence is relative to our state of mind. Even in what we consider to be absolute silence we are faced with the sound of our own system and our inner dialog which in turn has a profound influence on our relationship to the world around us. I came to meditate on the fact that we are always engulfed in soundscapes and very few of us are aware of our relationship to these sounds and to the noise we are creating and the ways in which this noise, or lack thereof affects those around us and our immediate environment. Being in solitude for an extended time focused solely on sound. I became acutely aware of the affect sound has on my mood and overall state of mind. Sound is essentially vibration and it influences and permeates us on all levels. Exploring these aspects of sound has deeply affected the way in which I create and perform music. I have become subtlety aware of the influence sound has in our culture and the power Music and Sound has in affecting human beings and environment.
All of these meditations have had a profound affect on my music, my relationship to sound, and the ways in which I approach songwriting. My time at the Hill House afforded me the space and solitude I needed to fully engulf myself in my music and songwriting.
Powered by amazing Local produce and delicious local beer and aided by the amazing group of people that compose ISLAND (Institute for Sustainable Living, Art & Natural Design); I embarked on a deep exploration of music, sound, and the space we find ourselves in this age of abundant information and over stimulation. To be afforded the opportunity to step away from society and to reflect on my life, my art, and this culture I live in was such an amazing blessing for which I am forever grateful to everyone at ISLAND.