Nearly 200,000 people visited Longwood Gardens last year for Nightscape: A Light and Sound Experience — one of the Philadelphia region’s most innovative art experiences in decades. Set over Longwood Gardens’ expansive grounds in Kennett Square, PA, Nightscape combined the digital mapping technology of Klip Collective with the creative ambient sounds of an eclectic mix of Philadelphia-based electronic musicians. Encompassing both indoor and outdoor site-specific installations inspired by the Gardens, Nightscape leads guests on an immersive and imaginative nighttime journey. This year, it’s back with some visual surprises and completely reimagined music.
Visitors to Nightscape experienced gardens full of visual and auditory shapes and patterns, projected onto a huge collection of native and exotic flora. Now the soundtrack — the auditory and melodic backbone to the visual art — is an album.
The vinyl pressing includes selected music from both seasons, and a digital download card for the full soundtrack. It’s available at The GardenShop at Longwood Gardens, and online at Bandcamp.
Featuring the work of Jon Barthmus of Sun Airway, Julian Grefe and Justin Geller of Pink Skull, and Thomas Roland and JT James from Klip Collective, the album is the auditory imagining of Nightscape’s augmented reality projection.
Each song’s story is evocative of its corresponding visual experience. Barthmus’ Large Lake, Season 1 was written on a portable synthesizer during an early visit to the site as an imagining of what a lake would look like with giant fireflies sweeping across its surface. Songs on the soundtrack are not background music, but rather multilayered orchestral soundscapes created as if — as Barthmus puts it — “the trees and plants were making the music.”
The transformation of these ideas into what guests describe as “hallucinatory” and “psychedelic” experiences makes Nightscape and its soundtrack a one-of-a-kind creation. Grefe and Geller’s songs were composed with equal parts art and science by using computer models of plant structures as the basis for their sound patterns. According to the duo, “We took our time in the Palm House, studying the plant structures, to come up with an analogous musical device to accentuate the synergistic nature of the installation. The opening filter ‘sweep’ in Palm House, Season 1 sets the tone for the whole room, a blossoming of the sounds that mimics the unfolding of the fronds themselves.”
In his piece Cypress Grove, Season 1, James used field recordings — the familiar chirping of insects, the sigh of wind through leaves and branches — reinterpreted as patterned tones and layers. Likewise, Roland’s work for Klip as a visual artist has a direct impact on his contribution Shady Retreat, Season 1, in which repetitive lights illuminating a path through the woods are reimagined as flickering tones on the brooding, droning track.
Though it would be impossible to replicate the sheer scale and intensity of Nightscape in a single format, this soundtrack evokes the spirit and creative chaos of the project surprisingly faithfully. Just like the greatest soundtracks to film or television, it can also be enjoyed by people who’ve never engaged with Nightscape before—but, after hearing it, will certainly want to.
Nightscape: A Light and Sound Experience is at Longwood Gardens from August 3 through October 29, 2016. Tickets are available at www.longwoodgardens.org.