The Natural Music of Luther College – Luther College Chips


On Wednesday Sept. 25, an electronic music performance took place in the Noble Recital Hall in Jenson-Noble Hall of Music. Visiting Assistant Professor of Music Jonah Elrod and Julia Ferris (‘21) performed a nature-themed research recital of electronic music. These pieces were created by incorporating different cycles and signals from the earth into electronic compositions to make original soundscapes.

   This past summer, Elrod and Ferris collected audio recordings from around Luther, which they used to create the program of music they performed. Audio samples were also taken from numerous locations in Decorah, and the two used software to layer different sounds to create their own original pieces.

    During the performance, the audio files were played over speakers, and the audience was encouraged to absorb the sound. For most attendees, this type of recital was a new experience. 

    “There was no performer on stage. It was just the sound system on stage,” Nate Sikkink (’22) said. “We were just sitting in darkness just listening to all the sounds. There were all these different sounds going on, and they all represented something different, and there was a story behind everything even though it wasn’t your traditional kind of music.”

   Elrod and Ferris were influenced by the works of different composers, such as Fransisco Lopez,  who used nature and synthesized sounds in their pieces.

   Elrod and Ferris collected audio clips from Lindeman Pond, Regents Center, the soccer fields, Main Building, Anderson Prairie, and Bentdahl Commons. The goal was to create a complete soundscape of the Luther College campus. After compiling more than 300 recordings over two months, they used editing software to combine different audio files to enhance the musicality of the finished product.

   “A lot of [the pieces] were focused on nature and ecological issues,” Ferris said. “We had pieces about prairie loss, about sulfur, and night skies.”

   Elrond and Ferris also incorporated celestial events, which were featured in two of the six programmed compositions.

    “[A solar eclipse] was taking place in the southern hemisphere, so we had to look up all of these astrological things, moon cycles, and I timed [the recording] to the eclipse,” Elrod said. “We recorded for a five hour period, and then cut down the final 10 minute piece proportionally.”

    The creation process was a collaborative effort. While the two artists did not necessarily compose their pieces together, they often shared recording space and stayed in communication about the progress of their arrangements.

   “We were informing each other, so we knew what the other was doing, which is not common.” Elrod said. “Composers typically don’t share pieces. It’s like movie directors. There are not two, there is one. So this feeding off of each other was really special. We treated each other as equals.”

   The process of creating these soundscapes is time-consuming.  Some of the recordings were complex, and had to be edited down from their original form.

   “We had multiple layers of sounds in all of our works.” Ferris said. “In one of my pieces, I took eight multitracks, and stacked them all on top of eachother, but moved them all slightly, so there was this echo and delay effect. In another, I took machine noises and shifted them, so they were singing a melody. You do things like that to create cool textures with the sounds.”

  While most of the soundscapes featured during the recital had natural origins, many pieces contained man-made noises as well. The sounds of settling buildings, human disruption,  and mechanical occurrences were all blended into the arrangements.

   Elrod and Ferris hoped the audience was able to connect with the sounds they used in their pieces.

   “The places we put these installations in were very significant, but that couldn’t be expressed in the recital because it was in concert form,” Elrod said. “Ultimately, I want people to explore and seek sounds they like in their everyday soundscapes. I want them to then question those sounds, and their origins, and what they say about our lives.”

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