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Photo by I Care if You Listen

Q&A with Lainie Fefferman and Jascha Naverson: Go Behind the Scenes of the Gaits Soundscape

By Victoria Tripsas | December 7, 2017

Celebrate the winter solstice with an immersive soundwalk along the High Line as part of the Gaits Soundscape. Participants become performers as your footsteps are turned into sounds, creating a collective, whimsical music piece including twinkling metallic sounds, electric guitar chords, dulcimer notes, and water splashes. Inspired by Phil Kline’s annual Unsilent Night, the original score was composed by Lainie Fefferman, Jascha Narvenson and Cameron Britt and Daniel Iglesia for the High Line.

We had the chance to catch up with Lainie Fefferman and Jascha Naverson, two of the minds behind The Gaits, to find out why you should participate this year:

Friends of the High Line (FHL): Can you tell us a little bit more about what The Gaits is and how it came to be?
Lainie Fefferman (LF): We were inspired by a piece by Phil Kline called Unsilent Night, both of us had done it separately. It’s a non-denominational, winter-time parade of sound. We wanted to make a piece in that vein, a ceremonious sound walk. At the time we were making it, we had just gotten together and were living in Chelsea. The High Line had just opened and when we thought about this piece, the High Line seemed like such a dream location. Also, Make Music New York helped us a lot. They found out about it and had this beautiful winter solstice event that they wanted to produce it for.

FHL: What about the High Line inspired the creation of the composition?
LF: It was such a dream location for a lot of reasons, one because we loved it, but also because it’s a straight line so just for the technology, cutting off the location piece by piece and geotagging the locations in a linear way made our job so much easier.

I went on this tour of the High Line years ago and it gave me such an in-depth look into the past. A lot of the sounds we used came from the sounds that we imagined from that tour. For example, the tour guide pointed out all of the places where the meat would have been hanging on hooks years ago and a lot of the sounds were inspired by this clanking, industrial noise. It was really fun to have a blend of twinkling bells and winter time sounds with meat hooks jangling and chains.

FHL: What’s the best part about participating in this collective experience?
Jascha Naverson (JN): In the Phil Kline piece, the idea was that if you were participating and brought your own boom box, you’re really part of this surround sound piece, literally you are surrounded. Of course it sounds cool but it’s also a cool social experience because everyone around you is part of it. It’s also interesting to see people’s intrigued expressions as you walk by. It’s a fun way to interact with strangers, both the ones participating and the ones walking by and observing. It has a ceremonial feel. Hopefully a lot of that translates to The Gaits. You get the sense of being a big wandering mass of sound and its quite lovely to hear. In the same way that people enjoy twinkling displays of lights, this is a big twinkling sound display.

LF: One thing that’s different from Phil’s is that for his it’s these pre-existing tracks that you play, but ours is dependent on each individual person’s motion. It creates a unique sound and is triggered by your walk. It’s fun to hear the different sounds of walking. In normal experience walking on the High Line, or even anywhere in New York, you’ve got the different rates of flow and the ecology of walkers but now you are actually hearing it. There’s not this common pulse. It’s a cloud of sound. There’s even a sound for stopping.

Pro tip: The Gaits experience is best if you put your phone in your back pocket rather than holding it in your hand.

RSVP: The Gaits

We invite you to join us for The Gaits on Thursday, December 21! Download the iPhone or Android application and join the fun starting at 5:30 pm when we’ll be registering participants and distributing small wearable speakers* for the duration of the event to the first 100 participants. The walk begins promptly at 6 pm on street level at Gansevoort and Washington St, moves through the park, and ends at West 30th St. We’ll see you there!

*If you own a small portable speaker, bring it along to use during the soundwalk. Also, if you own a phone that doesn’t have a headphone jack please make sure to bring an adapter.

About the Composers
New York composer Lainie Fefferman has written music for voices, orchestral instruments, banjoes, bagpipes, shawms, car parts, and electronic media. Her music draws inspiration from the rigorous, the gorgeous, the nasty, and the zany. She began her studies as a math major, but ended up a composer at Yale and is now working toward a PhD in composition at Princeton. Her recent collaborators include Newspeak, JACK Quartet, So Percussion, and electric guitar quartet Dither. She has sung at the United Nations, been a rehearsal pianist at Westminster Choir College, and performed on kazoo with the Bang on a Can All-Stars.

Jascha Narveson was raised in a concert hall and put to sleep as a child with an old vinyl copy of the Bell Laboratories mainframe computer singing “Bicycle Built for Two.” Awash in the sounds of chamber music recitals in his parents’ house-concert series from an early age, he spent his high-school years playing in improvisatory un-music bands and listening to increasingly esoteric music from various corners of the globe and subcultural strata of the industrialized world. These influences mixed with intensive traditional training in North and South Indian rhythmic traditions, a summer residency with Bang On A Can, and degrees in acoustic and electronic composition from Wilfrid Laurier University, Wesleyan’s MA in experimental and world music, and Princeton’s doctoral program. His music is a vibrant testament to these influences, combining the Western composer’s love of novelty with an unshakable devotion to rhythm, physicality and “flow” inherited from everywhere else. His music has been played in many places by many people, some of them famous, others deserving of fame, all of them deserving of thanks.

N. Cameron Britt is a percussionist, composer, and instrument builder. He invented the EMvibe, an electromagnetically actuated vibraphone. As a percussionist he has performed extensively with the North Carolina Symphony and is active as a creator and interpreter of new music. His compositions have been performed by the Brentano String Quartet, So Percussion, Ensemble Klang, janus, NOW Ensemble, and the electronica duo Matmos. He has worked with the laptop ensembles Sideband and PLOrk and is interested in creating new electronic instruments in both hardware and software. He received his PhD in Composition from Princeton University and currently teaches percussion at Duke University.

Daniel Iglesia creates music and media for humans, computers, and broad interactions of the two. His works have taken the form of concert works for instruments and electronics, live audio and video performance, generative and interactive installations, and collaborations with many disciplines such as theater and dance. He co-led PLOrk (the Princeton Laptop Orchestra) for three seasons. He plays with Spirograph Agnew and Sideband. He made MobMuPlat. He currently works at Google.