The palm court is one of the most photographed locations on Stetson University’s DeLand campus. Pictures of it can be seen in brochures and on the website. Visitors pause by the fountain and try to frame the trees just right. New graduates rush to take one last photo with their friends after being dismissed from commencement. It’s one of those locations that seems to have a pull on people, demanding that they take their camera out and snap a photograph. This visual compulsion led me to question how I could respond with my own sonic action. I have always been interested in the ability of headphones to transport the listener to a new space and convey perspective sonically, and decided to create a piece conceived for headphones.
Between November 2014 and April 2015, I embarked on the task of recording three minutes of audio at each one of the 120 trees on the palm court. This resulted in over six hours of material that was then stitched together into five compositions according to five distinct sections of the palm court. The quick edits require listeners to constantly reorient their position within the palm court, a task which draws attention to the fountain’s sonic presence. This juxtaposition also reveals reoccurring sounds that add to the character of the palm court, such as the squeak of doors opening, the drone of planes flying overhead, and the whirr of lawn mowers on the ground. The longer segments let the drama of certain ephemeral events unfold, like people moving past the microphone’s fixed position and conversations captured that were never meant to be overheard.
Throughout the process of creating this piece, people repeatedly asked me, “What do the trees say?” I always gently corrected them by responding, “it’s more about what they hear.” After spending some time with this installation, my hope is that listeners can better appreciate the soundscape these silent witnesses inhabit.