A warm sea breeze wafts through the Florida forest surrounding Atlantic Center for the Arts. The audience waits in the Amphitheater, one of fourteen beautiful structures nestled in the trees, anxious to explore eleven acres of Distance Music. A drum set and musicians stand nearby.
Two staccato chords reverberate across the forest. It is the Distance Organ: nine MIDI to radio-controlled horns located on two vast sets of concentric circles across the land. They toot at the same moment, each of their notes racing across the forest at the speed of sound. The notes arrive at your ears in a rhythm that is proportional to their distances from you. The chords repeat, creating a precise loop – a strange groove filling the air from all directions.
The drummer creates a beat that matches the loop and is joined by each musician in turn, who improvises a new layer – like a human drum machine. The Distance Organ stops, and the musicians turn and walk out of the Amphitheater, scattering down different nature paths, improvising at will.
The audience heads out, too, each choosing a path to the other “prime interval” point, “East,” 600 feet northeast. With every step they take, it will seem that the chords break apart, but, turning back, they hear them reassemble. The music responds to them. Their melody is a result of their location, so it changes when they walk. Everyone hears different music at the same time.
That relationship between rhythm and location is the time-space continuum, and it surrounds us every day: but only loud sounds can reveal it. A drum on the football field; thunder; a high altitude jet – these are examples of loud sounds we hear over distance, and each sound is out of synch with what we see. We see the drummer hit the drum, but we hear it later. We count the seconds after we see the lightning strike to measure the distance to the lightning. The sound of the jet lags far behind the tip of its contrail. Distance Music gives the audiences a chance to enjoy exploring the time-space continuum.
In the liminal space between Amphitheater and East, rhythms will become chaotic. Across this territory, the audiences will find musicians roaming, improvising to the Distance Organ melodies that they find fascinating. As they near East, the chaos will slowly reorganize into metric precision, this time the horns music revealing a rapid upward scale.
Returning to the Amphitheater, each listener witnesses the scale falling into disorganization. Again, they come upon musicians through the forest, improvising with metric chaos. Arriving back at their starting point, they will find the drummer still playing to the same two chords.
In the larger reality, nothing changed except for everyone’s location in the time-space continuum of the Distance Organ.