The day began with the usual stress of an event manager – trying to make sure that the day is starting out well for our 50-plus guests, and that the day can continue to unfold as though it was all effortless. Even as we arrived at Oliver Ranch and began to get a glimpse of the truly remarkable environment in which a piece of audiovisual art was about to unfurl, my nose was still firmly stuck to the grindstone and a little unaware of the magnitude of what was about to happen.
We were there to present a live performance of Through Music, a composition by Shahrokh Yadegari that was commissioned by the Magnes and curated by guest curator Lawrence Rinder, Director of Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. The “there” was Oliver Ranch, belonging to Steve and Nancy Oliver, who for the past 25 years have invited artists to live on their ranch to create sculptures on their property. Ann Hamilton’s Acoustic Tower is an enormous cement cylindrical structure that rises from the hills of Oliver Ranch. Two staircases snake up the walls of the interior of the tower, with the audience on one staircase and the musicians on the other.
What happened as we sat on the steps, I can only describe as “otherworldly”. It wasn’t just the music that was at play in that magical space. The wind rippled the fabric that covered the tower windows, adding an extra bit of percussion at the uncanniest of timing. There was a hawk’s feather floating in the reflecting pool at the bottom of the tower, and it slowly swayed in the water. The expressions on the audience’s faces added to the canvas. Most of the lyrics were not in a language that I understood, but it didn’t really matter. There was spirituality to the music and the environment that transcended all of that.
After the performance I had an opportunity to shake Dr. Yadegari’s hand. His gaze, which was in exacting concentration during the performance, was now warm and surrounded by laugh lines.