Distance Music is an outdoor “meta-composition”, where the composer creates sonic conditions to create a specific melodic results simultaneously for multiple locations within a large, multi-acre site.  Unique melodies are heard at each of the locus points due to the various time required for the sounds to cross the distance to each locus. The distance organ, a set of individually controlled, tuned train horns was created to be heard across large distances. The horn sounds are accompanied by live musicians close each locus point. The audience moves from locus to locus to hear gradual shifts in the melodies’ note orders from locus to locus, as calculated by the composer.

The Distance Organ pneumatics/mechanicals were successfully tested for one year previous to the concert, one radio one month previous, and the remaining seven radios built 3 days prior to the concert. All seven horn apparatus were finally built just hours before the premiere. We ran out of teflon tape halfway through the builds and slow leaking took place. Once arrived, unloaded and moved to the pier, we noticed important wire-to-wire points were forgotten in the complicated build order.

The “Swan Boat Navy” of seven boats and the crew of 14 efficiently navigated their horn apparatuses to predetermined and rehearsed GPS points.  Thirty orchestral musicians showed up in a predetermined parking lot to be shuttled to the nearest location possible at the site, transportation made possible by Full Sail University and were in their seats, music and conductors at the ready, on time. But the principal actor to create the new musical form, the distance organ itself, failed to respond to 98% of the data sent. The radios we employed in the design were not as powerful as advertised. We may have suffered from the “Fresnel Effect”. We should have had our broadcast antenna up high and not held in our hands (our bodies probably provided yet another level of interference).

A Clear-Com Tempest was rented from TAI Audio allow communication between myself and the conductors, myself and the Swan Navy Admiral, and the Admiral to the Navy members in the boats. It failed us as well. The WiFi it employed did not have the promised range required. We had to resort to texting on cell phones at the show. I started the conductors on the distant shores by waving my arms. Amazingly, they played together in synch, anyways and did not waiver from the tempos.

In a nutshell, we simply didn’t give the gear enough of a technical pre-show run through. Had we done so, we’d have discovered all of these issues. But a shoestring budget prevented Kevin being in town longer than 3 days before, and for me renting the expensive radio equipment any longer. Quite a difficult lesson.

Importantly, the large audience had a good time. It was a splendid morning, and at least the excellent performance of the brass choirs provided entertainment. Many people suggested I not call it a failure, but in my mind of course it was! Distance Music will be a jaw-dropping experience when it happens. This wasn’t Distance Music. It was two bands playing accompaniment music across a pretty lake with a few train horns randomly blasting..

Distance Music from Tommy Bowe on Vimeo.


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