The Cyclical Voices of Lake Tahoe

While some 50 attendees sat listening in silence—some on vintage couches and chairs, others on the floor— a mixture of eerie pulses, clicks and subtones emanating from an array of barely noticeable speakers filled and swirled through the Third Space Art Collective in Davis. On April 6, the opening reception for the Lake Tahoe Sonification Project launched a weeklong installation where visitors can experience the lake on a deeper level.

The Sonification Project is a collaborative sound creation that transforms atmospheric, temperature, and water movement data taken from the deep mountain lake into a multi-layered, four-dimensional soundscape of natural rhythms and electronic tonalities, meant to represent “multiple aspects of Lake Tahoe’s aural environment.” To make it happen, UC Davis graduate students in musical composition—Philip Acimovic, Gabriel Bolaños, Kevin Corcoran, Fang-Wei Luo, and Alex Van Gils—along with sound engineer Matt Gilbert, developed individual musical interpretations of the data, and have brought the results together at the art space.

The composers assigned tones and volume levels to scientific data that reflect cyclical fluctuations in water temperature, wind speed, and barometric pressure. They chose the musical and mathematical parameters to define the constants, and then let nature produce the variants. Rhythms of rising and falling water temperature, for example, as measured near the surface or from deeper within the lake, correspond to day/night and winter/summer changes. The result is a mysterious, quirky, multi-layered, and four-dimensional electronic musical experience.

According to composer Gabriel Bolaños, each day this week the installation will feature the music produced by a specific natural frequency. Using data gathered over the past year at Lake Tahoe, the reiterative cycles of days, weeks, month, and years affect the aural mapping in the music, so every day of the project will be different.

The Lake Tahoe Sonification Project is sponsored by professors Geoff Schladow in the department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the director of the John Muir Institute of the Environment; Naoki Saito in the department of Mathematics; and Sam Nichols in the department of Music, as well as a UCIRA arts grant; the Project will fill the air at Third Space, at 946 Olive Drive, through Sunday, April 13.