Skagit Impressions – Photography and Music

Photography of Skagit County, WA farmlands by Gary L. Brown with piano music and nature sound field recordings by Conrad Askland.

Gary Brown is known locally as one of the premier photographers of surrounding landscapes in the Skagit County farmlands of Washington State in the US Pacific Northwest. He also does excellent live theater photography and has been photographer for many theatrical shows that I have been involved in locally. A few months ago he took me out on a photo shoot with him to hunt for different sunlight, shadows and cloud formations after a local rain shower. It was incredible to get a sense of how he views our local land through his lens.

As part of an art class that I am taking with Berklee College of Music, we were asked to think of interdisciplinary art forms where we could fuse different art forms into a single presentation. I had remembered on our photo shoot that Gary had mentioned it would be interesting to combine his photographs with some of my nature field recordings. So that was my instant thought on this Berklee project: to combine Gary’s photographs with some of my field recordings, and then I thought it would be interesting to improvise piano music while looking at this photographs.

When I improvise at the piano it’s common for me to think of a musical or visual theme so I have some context to play to. I have played to photographs many times before but I have never recorded any of those improvisations. Part of the concept in creating this comes from Tim Ferriss who gives a good mental exercise in this question: If what you want to do was really easy, what would it look like? At first when I thought of putting music to the photographs I was imagining a very involved process with many tracks. I took Tim Ferriss’ question to heart and thought: If I put music to these photographs and it was really easy, what would that look like? For me, it would be to improvise piano in one take. I normally don’t record that sort of work because it seems to basic. The place where I normally improvise to picture is more of the thing I do for friends to entertain them or sometimes during church services to set a mood. So, there you have it, this is what I recorded from looking at the photographs and recording a piano improvisation in one take. Not mind blowing or complex, but what I enjoy is the final result is a unique offering – a little slice of time with music created from inspiration of viewing the photographs. Just first impressions and then improvise. I wanted to go with first impressions and not over think the process.

So, this project is called “Skagit Impressions”. We love our local landscapes and farmlands in Skagit Co. and this is our little offering to try and express that.

Nature field recordings are something that I have done for about 15 years now. It was also fun to incorporate some of those outdoor location recordings into the project.

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