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The Synergies of Tippet Rise

July 2, 2020

Music is not about notes. Sculpture is not about shapes. Land is not only about dirt. They’re metaphors that operate just over the horizon, just out of sight, on the tips of our tongues, not entirely visible.

Based on the essay The Synergies of Tippet Rise by Peter Halstead.
Halstead, Peter and Cathy. Tippet Rise Art Center. New York, Princeton Architectural Press, 2018.

Mixing Engineers: Jim Ruberto and Monte Nickles
Photo: The synergy of sky, sculpture, land, and light. By Erik Petersen.
Producer and Narrator: Zachary Patten


Music: Aaron Jay Kernis Musica Celestis performed by Ariel String Quartet

00:13 ZACHARY PATTEN: There is a cosmic synergy between art, music, land, sky, and poetry. A secret between the metaphysics of frequency, sight, and harmonics waiting to be discovered. Across time, humanity tries to prove over and over again what we only suspect. Artists, musicians, and poets sometimes look to the past for clues about these metaphors. A 9th-century treatise on music proclaims “Sing of praise, with an attentive mind, and without end.” When composer Aaron Jay Kernis discovered this timeless phrase, it not only unveiled the inspiration of music from the past but also provided a potent image from which to create this new string quartet, Musica Celestis.

01:18 The phrase references the heavens, the divine, the celestial bodies that remind us that we share this place among the cosmos. At the time of the treatise, medieval philosophers theorized three types of music: musica instrumentis, the physics of sound creation, like a bowed string or vibrating column of air; musica humana, music of the human spirit, the harmony within oneself; and musica mundana, or the music of the universe - the gravitational frequencies of celestial bodies, planets, asteroids, and stars that provoke a physical response in all of us.

02:08 Throughout the ages, philosophers and mathematicians have uncovered nature’s gratifying proportions, like the divine ratio and the Fibonacci sequence. However, they matter not of entertainment, but of survival, an asteroid that loses its frequency becomes a meteorite and falls into the gravity of nearby planets. These proportions and balances echo in our art, architecture, and music, for we are all uniquely attuned to the cosmos and we are, indeed, made of stars.

We are all uniquely attuned to the cosmos and we are, indeed, made of stars.
Photo by Erik Petersen.

02:51 But, music is not about notes, sculpture isn’t about shapes, and land isn’t just about dirt. They’re metaphors, collaborations, and triangulations that correspond and refer to each other. In a Montana Spring, the land and sky come to life and we see examples of these energized collaborations all around us. Warm air heats the snow, snowmelt fills the rivers, rivers nourish the land, and the land forms the foundation on which our very lives depend. Together, they form a synergy, a whole that is greater than the sum of its individual parts.

03:33 This episode of the Tippet Rise podcast explores the synergy of Tippet Rise. When music becomes speech when a sculpture becomes a sound, when the arts crisscross, and when nature shows us a model for synergy that’s not only beautiful but essential for life, we begin to embody these synergies to become the world we hope babies will discover, the sky we hope our children will inherit, and the night of our dreams.

The Beartooth Portal in the gloaming.
Photo by Erik Petersen.

04:16 MARK DI SUVERO: This is the story of a man who reaches the power of music because he’s been copying Mozart and he knows how to do it. Then, suddenly, they cut his ears off, right? And he has to do music. Can you imagine the guy was def when he built those quartets! It’s the music of a deaf man.

Music: Ludwig van Beethoven, String Quartet No. 15 in A Minor, op. 132 - Molto adagio; Andante performed by Dover String Quartet

04:52 ZP: After all the sonatas, concertos, and symphonies, the reinvention of himself - three times, Beethoven single-handedly changed the purpose of music. From music for occasion to music that expresses the depth of the human spirit.

05:09 MD: His music has a greatness, a capacity to go through anguish, and a capacity of joy, a ferocious, ferocious joy.

05:27 ZP: Inspired by the late quartets of Beethoven, Mark di Suvero’s Beethoven’s Quartet does double service as both objects and tools by which the universe can be uncovered. The sculpture may be seen as a steel version of a cat’s cradle, a child’s string webbing in which imaginary animals nest. It is our presence as an observer that creates the conditions for our imagination and soul to be unlocked.

…objects and tools by which the universe can be uncovered. Beethoven’s Quartet.
Photo by Erik Petersen

05:57 MD: People see the same thing and get completely different responses. To be open to having these responses, this invention of sculpture parks, is one of the things that allows that feeling of freedom and the wide-openness is where we dream freedom exists.

06:24 ZP: The artist invites his audience to complete the connection of music, art, landscape, and freedom by playing the sculpture with rubber mallets he left behind.

06:37 MD: We have become a spectator society when I really believe in an engaged, physiological, complete dance with one another.

06:54 ZP: Not only are the barriers removed between art and audience, but it recalls a time of innocence.

07:00 MD: We know how much your youth is important and the idea of play is so important. You look back and what happens is when you go into a different culture, suddenly they’re playing in a different way. Although music is able to go beyond whatever the language is that we live with, it is able to reach so deeply into our being that it’s life transformative.

07:40 ZP: It’s not just the physical materialization of intangible values that infuses our concepts of art and music; it’s the synergies such elements inspire among us. From Beethoven’s music to di Suvero’s sculpture, filmmaker Djuna Zupancic continues the synergy with a film in which the sculpture is completely immersed in a blizzard.

“White Out” by Djuna Zupancic.

08:05 PETER HALSTEAD: Djuna Zupancic had spent a freezing hour, or several hours, in a blizzard filming Mark di Suvero’s sculpture. The sculpture has an enormous silver-colored steel loop suspended beneath it from girders. The loop revolves in a high wind: the stronger the wind, the faster the spin.

08:26 In Djuna’s film, you couldn’t see what was moving it or even holding it up in the air. It was a total white-out. The silent camera ignored the sound of the raging storm. The effect made me think of how invisible forces make us revolve, how they shape our lives without our seeing it or hearing it.

08:48 ZP: Upon reflection of the film, Tippet Rise co-founder Peter Halstead, wrote the poem, “Storm.”


The white of snowfall muffles
All, although it hides
A thread inside, a key
To a labyrinth that guides
Lost travelers back home,
The way a blank page shuffles
Everything unsaid
Into versions of infinity,
A hidden dome, an offing
Where revolves and grows,
Like waves at night, the aura,
The overtone of things unseen,
Shapes of the unknown,
That surround a hand, a string
Quartet, the aurora

Made obvious by night,
The universe’s bright debris
Hanging in the sky, a stalactite
Traced by energy,
Like iron filings by a magnet.
Mystery at the heart of things,
Mystery is the way
Underlying worlds set
Their deeper orbits into play,
The invisible but also huge
Trellises that spawn
A storm’s impelling centrifuge
Where drifting lives are drawn
Into nature’s whirling sieve,
The page’s human white where
Only cosmic dreams can live.

10:45 PH: “Storm” was a poem I wrote about a sculpture rotating in a blizzard. The blizzard, the whited-out, infinite, blank paper of the universe, is where energy, matter, and people write. It’s a Tabula Rasa (blank slate). What we see, a sculpture revolving in the wind is the overtone of things unseen. The universe’s bright debris hanging in the sky is not only the loop, but the snow itself.

11:21 ZP: Over a long Montana winter, snowfall that accumulates in the higher elevations becomes snowpack. In the spring and early summer, the snowmelt charged with gravity fills the rivers and tributaries. The landscape at Tippet Rise was the bottom of the inland sea during the ice age and, today, the arterial rivers and their capillary ends, carve and branch into the land, refreshing and nourishing the soil and grass. Everything comes to life. The moraines and hill crests look like frozen waves inside a romantic painting.

The moraines and hill crests look like frozen waves inside a romantic painting.
Photo by Erik Petersen.

11:58 ZP: The shiplike girders of Mark Di Suvero’s sculpture reach into space for advice or help and similarly, the wooden masts and rigging in the work of Stephen Talasnik weave into the landscape of Tippet Rise.

12:10 STEPHEN TALASNIK: Making something large out of wood gives it a humanity and a sense of warmth. The wood is imbued with a sense of intimacy that we don’t normally associate with large-scale building and I think that everybody has that common experience with wood, regardless of where it’s located.

The barrenness of the landscape suggests something almost lunar. Satellite No. 5 Pioneer.
Photo by Erik Petersen.

12:25 ZP: His sculpture, Satellite No. 5: Pioneer is an exact copy of the original small maquette devised for a project on the East River in New York City. The artist was inspired by stories of exploration such as the expedition of Sir Ernest Shakelton and his ship The Endurance, which was frozen in a sea of ice off the coast of Antarctica. The land which was once the bottom of the sea now evokes a lunar-like surface.

Music: Aaron Jay Kernis String Quartet No. 4, (Oasis), Movement 4 performed by Borromeo String Quartet

12:52 ST: The first time I came here, the baroness of the landscape really suggested something that was almost lunar. It reminded me of deep space and all of the satellites that were going up and landing in various parts of the lunar surface to document, to photograph.

13:06 ZP: Photography has had a profound impact on our perspective of this shared home. In 1972, the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft showed the vulnerability and isolation of earth with a photograph called The Blue Marble and, in 1990, Voyager 1 captured the Pale Blue Dot, an image from six billion miles away which shows the earth’s size as less than one pixel.

The vulnerability and isolation of earth.
Photos from NASA.

13:32 ST: You know, why do we make the effort to explore that which we don’t know? Human beings overcoming what they perceive as obstacles and that, somehow, life is a lot richer when you attempt to harness that which is the unexpected, or the unknown, and risking everything just to find answers that may not be available. There is something that is inherently attractive about the unknown and the ambition to at least, maybe not conquer it, but to explore it and to see how it changes one’s life.

14:03 ZP: Bringing the artists focus back to land, there remain clues to the stories about life from many years ago.

14:09 ST: I noticed the very small log cabins that had been abandoned by the settlers that were strewn across the ranch and I focused on those. And I thought these were examples of early exploration.

14:22 ZP: From astronauts to pioneers, in this sculpture, there exists a synergy of fortitude and perseverance.

From astronauts to pioneers, in this sculpture there exists a synergy of fortitude and perseverance.
Photo by Erik Petersen.

14:29 ST: You know, It’s not the events that determine who we become, it’s how we respond to the events and there are only so many things that we can control and one knows that when they’re dealing with the elements. It’s the idea that we cannot insure how things will unfold and the mystery of that process is the appeal. And that is the nature of exploration, no guarantees, but you try to do as much as possible to ensure that there is a journey.

15:03 ZP: Over two billion years ago, a dynamic event began to unfold in the ancient sea bed. Movement of crustal plates caused the earth’s crust to wrinkle. Some of the massive folds were distorted to a breaking point, resulting in fractures that caused an uplift in some of the crust. The seaway which extended from the present Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean subsided slowly and was pushed out of the entire western interior. The Beartooth Mountains emerged.

Music: John Luther Adams Red Arc/Blue Veil performed by Vicky Chow and Doug Perkins

The Beartooth Mountains emerged.
Photo by James Florio.

15:38 The Beartooths themselves are named for the Red Lodge palisades tooth-like spikes up to six hundred feet tall that protrude from the cliffs like shark fins. Led by partners Anton Garcia-Abril and Debora Mesa, Ensamble studio found inspiration in these geological transformation processes and shapes. The three massive works are collectively called “structures of landscape” and seem sprung from their own energy, without ancestors, without creators. They are, infact, born from the landscape itself, made from the land beneath them.

The portals are gates, but also sundials. The Beartooth Portal.
Photo by James Florio.

16:19 ZP: Beartooth and Inverted Portal speak to the shadow of the sun cast at the solstices and the equinoxes. The portals are gates, but also sundials. They are gnomons, the obelisks on the dials, the cairns that serve to locate time and space, as we ourselves are cairns, the point of the sun, the focus of time.

16:46 The Domo is a dolmen straight out of prehistory. It is a house, a domus, made of rock, cement, grass, rebar, and earth. It is the equivalent of a pyramid, an elegant transport into the new life of whatever is placed inside of it. The many doors of The Domo are for the many lives and concerts it hosts inside its labyrinth.

It is a house, a domus, straight out of prehistory. The Domo.
Photo by James Florio

17:13 ZP: Although these structures are made from the earth, their placement and triangulation originates in the heavens.They are aligned with the stars and with each other, a spoke in a constellation projected on earth.

Music: Aaron Jay Kernis Musica Celestis performed by Ariel String Quartet

17:30 ZP: We seek salvation in the distant reaches of mountains, in deserts, on cliff faces, in high waves. In the unreachable places of the inscrutable works of art, against the immensity of meanings, we stand a boulder up and face it to the stars. It is a cry for understanding: to understand, to be understood.

17:59 ZP: We have to try to define what moves us so strangely about such savage land under such an immense sky. We have to be affected by the enormity of what is beneath us and what is above us. We must never forget that we are all warmed by the same sun, admire the same night’s moon, and reach for the same heavenly stars.

We reach for the same heavenly stars. The Beartooth Portal.
Photo by Erik Petersen.

18:27 ZP: And so we return to the shared cosmos. At Tippet Rise we hope there already exists a sensory experience that pairs the geological structure of large-scale sculptures with the cosmological origins of the landscape it emulates.

18:44 ZP: We discover that synergies not only exist between music, sculpture, film, or poetry, or between the snow, rivers, and land, or land made into sculpture, but that everything is linked to everything else including us.

19:02 PH: It is the mysterious way worlds weave themselves together, where small motions like the rotating sculpture reveal higher levels of existence, the threads of cooperation among elements. When stars are born and die, they create energy exchanges which drive the solar wind. The solar wind blows through space, and that wind comes down to earth as movement and radiation, and it moves our atmosphere like a wave. And of course the earth’s rotation causes the trade winds to blow. So the wind is the tip of the iceberg. It’s a small sign of larger forces.

19:47 PH: Our drifting lives are shaped, driven by the collaboration of invisible forces. the way invisible forces work together, the way underlying, invisible worlds set their own revolutions, their deeper orbits, into play.

20:05 PH: It’s one small moment. But if you look at it closely, you see the world. The curtain is drawn back, and you see the wizard. This was the impetus behind Tippet Rise. We built it so people could see for themselves how the world cooperates, how different elements like steel or music or poetry come together. How that collaboration, that metaphor, unearths the sky.

How metaphors unearth the sky. The Beartooth Portal.
Photo by James Florio.