At the start of the fall semester, two months before the annual Gypsy Pond Music installation goes up at the University of Michigan’s School of Music, no one knows what it will look like, sound like, or be like. Not Stephen Rush, the dance and performing arts technology professor who oversees the project, nor his students in the Digital Music Ensemble, who create the installation that opens on October 28. Rush knows they will study labyrinth myths and legends of a wide variety of cultures, from Pima and Pawnee Indian to Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Hindu traditions. He knows they will begin with the most famous labyrinth legend, the Greek tale in which the hero Theseus goes into the baffling and terrifying maze created by the famed architect, Daedalus, and slays the part-bull, part-human Minotaur.
At that beginning point though, it’s still anybody’s guess what will emerge. Following a month of intense discussion and collaboration, during which a group idea coalesces, a concentrated period of construction results in the final structure.
Now in its eleventh year, Gypsy Pond Music has taken a unique form each fall. Last year, Gypsy Pond Ten featured a skeletal tunnel of two-by-fours wreathed in shimmering Christmas lights, constructed over the walkway winding between the pond and the bowl-like meadow near the School of Music. Speakers hanging in the trees lining the walkway played ambient electronic and nature sounds. Four stops along the passageway, representing the four elements, provided opportunities to meditate on nature. At the fire station, motion sensors triggered a computer and speakers producing crackling fire-like sounds. Wind chimes, set into motion by fall breezes, or by visitors, tinkled at the air station. The water station looked out over the pond, on which floated pyramids made of reflective materials and lit from within. The earth station, facing the bowl and the woods, had a plush, green recliner and several coleus plants in a mound of soil.
An earlier installation featured a labyrinth on the pond itself, in which a remote-control boat triggered different sounds and lights as it made its way through the maze. In 2001, following the events of 9/11, the class responded with a variation of Japanese lantern ceremonies that commemorate the dead. To memorialize the victims, they floated on the pond intricate constructions made of laminated rice paper and balsa wood, with lit candles in each.
Some claim that the pond is in the shape of a piano. While the installation is open from noon to 9 p.m., October 28 through November 1, possibly the best time to experience it is at night, when the lights are playing on the watery “piano.”
What will Gypsy Pond Music XI be? The only way to know is to go see–and hear and participate in it–for yourself.