Aural Art at Kuerner Farm

Philly-based artist creates a soundscape experience for visitors to the farm that gave Andrew Wyeth seven decades of inspiration

Staff photo by Wm. Shawn Weigel: Philadelphia artist and composer Michael Kiley holds a copy of 'Kuerner Sounds,' the five-minute musical soundscape composed of - and inspired by - sounds he captured on the Kuerner Farm in Chadds Ford Township. For the next two weeks, visitors can listen to the piece on a set of headphones as they visit the Farm as part of its regular tour.

When it came time to put together the music for his latest project, Philadelphia artist and composer Michael Kiley let the land and the setting call the tune.

With a set of binaural microphones planted in his ears, Kiley spent an hour or two strolling the buildings and grounds at the Kuerner Farm in Chadds Ford – renowned for the inspiration it provided area artist Andrew Wyeth.

Kiley walked across the bare boards of the house, pushed open the front door and crumbled bark with his hands, capturing it all with the microphones. He strolled into the barn and clapped to capture the echo and caught the tones of the frogs peeping away by the pond at the end of the field.

'The frogs actually became part of the basis for the melody,' Kiley said at a special preview of the new exhibition, 'Kuerner Sounds,' on Friday morning.

After his quick tour, Kiley took the sounds home and processed them, using Ableton Live software to create samples and loops out of the things he'd recorded; he even extracted tones and created his own sounds, and let the barn echo determine the delay on his brief, double-tracked vocals.

And he did all this in just a few weeks, because that's all the time he has.

Kiley's exhibition is an exercise in 'pop-up' exhibitions, an ephemeral art installation that operates under the maxim of, 'here today, gone tomorrow.'

Because of the nature of the exhibition, 'Kuerner Sounds' is only around for two weeks, and then it's gone – for the time being at least.

Kiley and his 'Kuerner Sounds' are in Chadds Ford as part of a Pew Center for Arts and Heritage grant, under the 'No Idea is Too Ridiculous' program that is only supposed to take eight weeks from start to finish – including the creation and exhibition of the production.

'It's an experiment for us,' said Brandywine Museum director Tom Padon. 'And we're thinking about how to re-cast the visitor experience at Kuerner Farm, because it was such a place of inspiration for Andrew Wyeth for over seven decades.'

Padon said the small amount of both money and time given to the project is done on purpose to inspire new thinking.

'We're not 'acquiring' this piece. We're only doing this for the two weeks, and then the piece comes and goes,' Padon said.

He also called Kiley's 'Kuerner Sounds' exhibition a fascinating moment for the farm that captured his inspiration as easily as it did Wyeth's.

'We're very excited by this. It's obviously something very different for us, but it's also the beginning of several things that we will be doing in engaging artists,' Padon said. 'This is sort of the kick-off for what is to come.'

The roughly five-minute piece blends ambient and New Age tones with a hint of gentle psychedelia, capped by warm acoustic guitar, droning synth tones, and a brief lyrical passage as ephemeral as the exhibition itself.

One of the most striking sounds Kiley said he'd captured turned out to be frogs – the ubiquitous 'peepers' you hear folks in these parts talk about – although he wasn't sure what produced the sound at first.

'I didn't know if it was a bug or what, when I heard it,' Kiley said. 'But they sing in a G and an A, and so that relationship of a whole step, and the way it overlaps a lot, was where a lot of the overlapping sounds came from. There are moments where things don't change so abruptly … so that compositional style came from the way they sing.'

Padon said that museum associate coordinator Christine Podmaniczy and education supervisor Mary Cronin, who both worked with the Pew Center on the grant, chose Kiley after experiencing his piece, 'The Empty Air.'

Called a 'sound walk,' the piece took a similar ambient approach to music and sound, Kiley said, linked to an iPhone app that plays the sounds for the listener as they stroll around Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia via GPS tracking.

'They thought that he might bring a very new and interesting perspective to Kuerner Farm,' Padon said.

'There are a lot of connections with Andrew Wyeth and sound,' Cronin said. 'Andrew said that when he came here, he talked about all the sights, sounds, tastes, of this place. In fact with his painting, 'Spring Fed,' of the barn … he said the sound was the whole reason for doing that painting. So as an artist, he was very aware of that element.'

'I wanted to just capture the way things sounded and felt when you're here,' Kiley said of his production.

Andrew Wyeth might have said the same thing.

'Kuerner Sounds,' which runs from May 13 to 24, is part of the regular tour admission for the Kuerner Farm. For tickets or more information, visit www.brandywineconservancy.org or call 610-388-8326.

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