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For the past few years I have been learning music and sound production techniques. One of my goals is to compose highly spatial music capable of transporting the listener to a fictitious place I have created in my mind. Understanding how sound can define and create space has been important for my journey personally, while also offer an indirectly benefit to my process as a landscape architect.

I have previously mentioned music’s connection to landscape and nature, noting a few ways nature and music are intertwined into some popular music references. Diving deeper, I’d like to explore the connection to place or the creation of place utilizing music.

One of my favorite examples is Lana del Rey – specifically her album Honeymoon – a musician who has built a career developed uponan ethereal aesthetic rooted in the glamourous dream of the late Hollywood golden age. This album evokes a feeling of cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway, with the power to conjure up memories that you’ve only witnessed in films.

Before moving to Los Angeles, I already knew the coastal landscape. Lana had transported me to these places I had never been to, and to a time I had never lived through. I could feel the cool breeze, smell the salt air, and see the orange glow of the California sunset representing an eternal summer. The music sonically and lyrically reflects a dichotomy between expectation and reality: the California dream versus the painful truth.

Reiterating the importance of place (Hollywood and the escape of the Southern California Coast), is seems perfectly fitting how the landscape plays a major role in supporting visuals and music videos.

A more recent example is from another favorite artist, Bjork. Her latest album Utopia, begins with the “Arisen My Senses”, a song capable of transporting the listener to a morning in Eden. Birds chirping, soft winds blowing, the light of the sun rising are all evoked through literal sounds and melodies. Before viewing the visuals, I felt very light, almost as I was arising from the ground from a utopia and flying above. I challenge you clean the canvas in your mind and let the song paint a beautiful landscape in your head.

The true genius of the collaborations between Lana del Rey and Rick Nowels or Bjork and Arca is their ability to create and convey a certain landscape attached to an emotion. These imagined landscapes are so embedded in the music aesthetic, the visuals become a display of that landscape, with the action playing a supporting role to the complex evocative space evoked. In Bjork’s case, the landscape is fictional; a metaphor for an emotion.

There are many other layers to the importance of place and time in these few tracks, with numerous other examples. Next time you listen to a new song that really transport you somewhere else, try to imagine the landscape of this “somewhere else”. It may prove an indirect, yet powerful tool as a landscape architect whose job it is to evoke a response, emotion, and movement.

If you’re like me – and I figure most people in 2017 are – you listen to music while walking, running, ride sharing, or driving through the landscape. Music has the power to express complex emotional and spiritual concepts, teleporting the mind to a certain time and place, or even bring about an altered state.

Beyond its role in audio-visual bias in spatial perception, your earbuds and track 13 on Anderson .Paak’s Malibu album can heavily influence experience and emotions, or even spiritually connect to your surroundings.
This augmented experience becomes landscape around you.

When I think of the tie between music and landscape, or music and nature, I think of a few examples of music augmenting the landscape. An artist can teleport you to a certain setting. An artist can reify a natural landscape’s unpredictability or ominous scale. Music can explain concepts within nature that are too broad for our consumption. Music can mimic nature. An artist can capture and isolate parts of nature.

That is a lot to think about!

Before we get into it let’s get some definitions out of the way:

  • Landscape n. – in a broad sense, the features of an area of land and its landforms; how these features interact with the broader nature and man-made features. This includes features both physical and cultural, natural and anthropological. Landscape can also be described as setting, a geographical location at a moment of time.
  • Music n. – sounds combined to produce a beauty of form, harmony, and expression of emotion.
  • Nature n. – the physical world and its organisms; features and products of the earth as opposed to humans and human creations.