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Noted composer, instrument builder, and sound artist, brings his sonic ingenuity to the Morris Museum
Fever Songs by John Morton.

MORRISTOWN, NJ.- John Morton has spent his life immersed in sound. As a composer, his passion is to make musical connections between unintentional events. Simple things like bird song masked by a passing truck, a creak in a floor, or “the very specific envelope of dissolve” made by the slamming of a hot dog cart lid, are among his inspirations. Morton’s sound installations have graced public parks, village greens, pedestrian bridges, historic and industrial sites, libraries, and now the Morris Museum with Sound Garden, starting November 16th and continuing through February 24th in the Main Gallery. Sound Garden consists of two interactive, sound-immersive installations: Fever Songs (2018) by Morton and The Voyage Out (2006-2018), in collaboration with Jacqueline Shatz. John Morton’s work showcases the sonic beauty in the world around our ears. If we’re often advised to “stop and smell the roses,” Morton asks us to stop and listen to them and to all the other auditory splendors that we take for granted or are too busy to hear. He crafts these moments into “sonic events” and weaves them into fluid, expansive, and user-friendly experiences.

For his acclaimed installation Sound Tunnel (2009), Morton occupied a pedestrian tunnel near the Central Park Zoo and installed six high-end speakers that broadcast the found sounds he collected in his research: human voices, jackhammers, clattering hooves, cracking ice, and the aforementioned hot dog cart lid. “I had a lot of sounds I knew I wanted to get, but then I just let my ear lead me.” The result was a new kind of 21st-century populist concerto. As Claudia Marshall said on WFUV, “John Morton’s music is fresh, fearless, and outrageously original. The thinking man’s music box.”

Sound Garden is a two-part exhibition. Fever Songs is a sonic installation that weaves together the vocal traditions of many religions. “Devoid of doctrine, Fever Songs brings together the commonality of the human ecstatic experience,” explains John Morton. Viewers enter the space and are surrounded by a circle of nine audio speakers that emit four diverse spiritual songs along with scriptural text for solo voices. The music and voices are sonically altered by ever-changing computer processing controlled by four motion-activated sensors in the middle speaker. As you move closer or further away, the songs are played in loops that are digitally and spatially manipulated. Groupings of voices change every fifteen minutes, creating a haunting chorus, and, by simply moving through the space, you, the visitor, become the conductor. Get a sneak peek:

The second installation, The Voyage Out, is a collaboration with figurative sculptor Jacqueline Shatz, who also works in other media. The two have partnered together on other projects such as WaterWall (2011), an installation on Governors Island, and a series of music box sculptures for the John Michael Kohler Arts Center. The Voyage Out, is a sonic and visual meditation on Charles Darwin’s legendary five-year voyage circumnavigating the globe aboard the HMS Beagle, which informed his scientific masterwork, On the Origin of Species (1859). A small, colorful kinetic sculpture of the Beagle is enclosed in a glass case. Viewers are invited to turn three music box keys that activate the movement of the mechanical ship and let loose a flood of computer-manipulated sound. The gyrations of the boat evoke the intense, continuous seasickness experienced by Darwin while aboard the vessel. The audio component includes the sounds of the voyage: gently lapping waves, the song of the Galapagos mocking bird, the honk of a penguin, the ratchet of an anchor being hoisted up from the sea, and the recitation of packing lists and field notes taken from Darwin’s biographies and journals. By merging the resulting audio with the brightly colored, collaged aesthetic of the kinetic sculpture, Morton and Shatz capture both the fantastical quality of the music box and the romantic thrill of adventure associated with this historic expedition.

Sneak peek:

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