Geneva Anderson digs into art

Chalk Hill Artist Residency launches with “Un-Sound 1,” an afternoon of new music sounds

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Chalk Hill Artist’s Residency at the Warnecke Ranch and Vineyards, near Windsor, may have been the best kept secret around but, with last Saturday’s official launch, the word is out.  ARThound was lucky enough to attend “Un-Sound 1: Outdoor Sonic Investigations,” a series of performances and installations using the natural environment of the Warnecke estate, located on the Russian River, for auditory exploration.  Cellist, composer and sound installation artist Hugh Livingston is the program’s first official resident and, earlier this year, was invited to live on the property and create in a uniquely beautiful natural setting.  In response, he created “River Triptych,” three distinct but harmonious sound environments installed on various hills on the sprawling estate.  (Click here for amazing video of the 3 installations.)   There’s always some provocation to Livingston’s creations which tend to involve computer-enhanced recordings of sounds found in nature.   His delicate wooden “Birdcages,” filled with imaginary birds, hung from oak branches overlooking a majestic ridge and were equipped with small speakers that played improvisational elements based on fragments of bird songs he recorded on the property.  The songs overlapped and repeated in odd, yet lyrical, ways.   Another sound work, installed on an adjacent hill, involved about two dozen cones emitting a collection of sounds he had recorded underwater with a hydrophone at the Russian River.  Livingston also hung several windows, framing distant vistas, from tree branches.  Instrumental sounds made with pinging and clinging glass were combined with texts written and read by Fred Euphrat about creeks that feed the Russian River.  Livingston has been so inspired by his time in nature that he has also written “River Opera,” an opera about the natural history of the Russian River that he expects to perform next spring. 

Livingston was joined last Saturday by visiting sound artists Gino Robair, Louis Laurain, Max Abeles, and Pierce Warnecke, who were invited to perform improvisationally or to create a sound installation inspired by the setting.  50 invited guests roamed the property, taking in the mini-concerts amongst the trees, lake, and vineyards.

Gino Robair is a percussionist and composer who has been a major force in the Bay Area experimental music scene for over twenty years.  He invited guests to join him in an improvisational performance of a portion of his opera in real time “I, Norton,”  based on the life of Norton I, Emperor of the United States.    The opera, which has been performed throughout the U.S. and Europe, is derived from the first published pronouncement of Norton I, a quite colorful and progressive, perhaps insane, figure Joshua Abraham Norton, (c. 1819-1880), who lived in San Francisco and proclaimed himself “Imperial Majesty Emperor Norton I” of the U.S. and subsequently “Protector of Mexico.”  Guests were asked to pick up stones and rocks and use their “instruments” in various ways to make short and long rhythms indicated by Morse-code like notations that were given out.  The libretto was put into graphics form so that non-musicians could participate.  Robair conducted several rounds, each more complex than the next, and a rousing time was had by all.

The Warnecke Ranch:  The Ranch was first purchased by the Warnecke family in 1911.  Architect  John Carl Warnecke (1919-2010) expanded the original boundaries and ran the ranch for many years before passing in 2010. The property is now run by Margo Warnecke Merck and Fred Warnecke, with help from the 4th generation of Warneckes on the Ranch: Alice, Pierce, Grace and Tess Warnecke.

The Residency:   Chalk Hill Artist’s Residency is devoted to supporting artists of all types by providing open space and free time at Hazel’s House on the Warnecke Ranch.  2011, the centennial year of the Warnecke Ranch and Vineyard, marks the opening of the Residency. 

The concept for the Residency is based on the vision of the late John Carl Warnecke. In 1983 he laid out plans for an artist retreat on his 280-acre property near the town of Healdsburg, bordering the Russian River.  The plan included multiple houses, conference rooms and studios.  He established a 501 c3 non-profit and began a master plan for the property to fulfill his vision: artists could live and work together in what he deemed the most beautiful place in the world. Key parameters for the residency come from JCW’s extensive writings about his vision:

“He wanted to spend time with friends and fellow architects and artists. Why not, he wondered, set up a retreat for artists on his own ranch land? But not just for his established professional friends, the architects, but also for established writers, composers and other visual artists, as well as those artists who were just starting to be recognized in their fields. This would give the younger, promising architects and artists an opportunity to mix and work with their peers. Few artists enjoy the luxury of full-time devotion to their work, and most have to work at odd jobs or seek subsidies. An Artist’s residency has long been one form of subsidy.” ~ JCW  

For more information about the Chalk Hill Residency, visit the website:

August 13, 2011 Posted by | Art | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment