passaroundsound Leif Brush

from The University of Chicago Magazine
Volume LXIX, Number 3
Spring 1977


Performance Art: Music of the Trees

Our campus reporter, somwhat dazed by a concentration of contemporary culture at Midway Studio's Performance Art show, reports the following:

"The press release said thta the artist might find the only interesting thing about his activity is the process of doing it. But the activity itself might be of interest to others. That didn't tell what to expext.

"I picked an evening called "Imported Sources." 'The artist was Leif Brush and it could have been anything.
"Tree stumps. Midway Studios was full of tree stumps. One looked like part of a Bell telephone pole, which it was; the others were ordinary stumps with wires, front surface mirrors, and strange-looking discs on them. It was to be a forest-land symphony--music from trees and their environment.

"Leif Brush and his artist-wife, photographer Gloria bent over stumps, pulling wires, tapping bark. We were not to hear the actual sounds from these stumps. The stumps were symbols of a Minnesota forest from which we were to hear a pre-recorded symphony.

"The lights went out. In the dark, a red laser beam flashed to a tree, hit a mirror, and bounced to another and another until all the trees flashed red. Then, the music. I closed my eyes. It was a little like heavy-footed elves. It was exhilarating.

"Leif Brush does sound sculptures. He is interested in the rhythms of the land, and places spot-sensing transducers on various parts of a tree, a root, a limb, or on the soil. By wind fluctuations, the trees resonate to produce sounds. Different trees produce different sounds. Weather conditions affect the sound. Our performance was'birch signatures aurally meshed with the imported sounds derived from spot sensors imbedded in the Meany Ice Shelf on Lake Superior's northwestern shore.'

"brush asked if there were any questions. He didn't know what University of Chicago students were like. There were dozens of questions. What was the technical setup of the sensors and laser; what was the theory behind it? Were the Brushes artists or scientists in disguise? 'I just do it,' said Brush. 'I know how it works.' Not good enough. How does it work? Brush became a human laser beam, bounding from tree symbol to tree symbol, trying to discover the process. 'I've got it' he shouted, and explained the technical details of his art. Then, enthused, he described his dream--dividing Minnesota into sections, wiring the trees in each, and from hills and valleys and riversides, transmuting the tree sounds into a statewide forest symphony. An exciting moment! A real performance.