ABOVE: Lincoln Castle Revealed
Barton, VT, USA — Charlie Morrow (b. 1942 in Newark, NJ) is a composer, sound artist, performer, and innovator whose goal over the past four decades has been to bring experimental sound and music to a wider audience. And, through avenues including concert performances and ad jingles, city-wide events and film scores , museum sound installations and hospital sound environments, his work has in fact been experienced by a wider audience than most creative artists can claim.
A composer who studied with Stefan Wolpe and worked with avant-garde Fluxus artists in New York in the 1960s, Morrow has written works that range from the “recomposition” Very Slow Gabrieli, a Giovanni Gabrieli sonata stretched many times its normal length, to Toot ‘N Blink, an orchestrated chorus of boat horns with blinking lights, as well as the score to the acclaimed 1970 documentary Moonwalk One and innumerable ad jingles, including those for Hefty trash bags (“Hefty, Hefty, Hefty! Wimpy, wimpy, wimpy!”) and Diet Coke. In 2010, he was honored in New York with Little Charlie Fest, a five-day celebration of his work presented and organized by Michael Schumacher/Diapason Sound Art Gallery, John Doswell Productions and WFMU FM in association with Steelcase.
A trailblazer in staging large-scale festival events – at which he was always recognizable in his signature bowler hat – Morrow created city-wide summer solstice celebrations in New York City from 1973 to 1989 through the New Wilderness Foundation, an arts organization he founded in 1974 with poet Jerome Rothenberg that promoted cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary art and performance, while exploring relationships between current developments and cultures of the distant past.
And in 1979 he founded Charles Morrow Productions and built a global network for sound explorations. In the 21st century, he created MorrowSound state-of-the-art technologies – including True 3D sound and 360° VR sound (see below) – at the forefront of the rapidly-expanding field of immersive sound. His work in the creation of sound environments is currently showcased in venues worldwide, including the Magic Forest & Aviary at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio; Marimekko’s New York flagship store on Fifth Avenue; SC Johnson’s corporate headquarters in Racine, Wisconsin; and the Hall of Planet Earth in the Rose Center for Earth and Space at New York’s American Museum of Natural History.
In the coming weeks and months this year and next, three distinct exponents of Charlie Morrow’s sound work will be showcased in the U.S., the U.K., and Finland:
- — Tool Sound Image, part of Tools: Extending Our Reach, opened December 12, 2014 (on view throughMay 24, 2015), at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum – A component of one of the opening exhibitions of the newly-renovated Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum (91st Street and Fifth Avenue in Manhattan), this multimedia composition, featuring True 3D sound and video, combines sounds and images of tools – including keyboards, a spinning wheel, knife, fiddle, and pestle – and their users. “3D immersive sound extends the video space forward to fill the gallery,” says Morrow. “Tool sounds are floated in ambiences like morsels in a soup, edge-blended with the ambient sonic broth.” In addition, Morrow’s audio work, Birds for Bertha and Bill (named for his grandparents), a soundscape of Central Park bird sounds, will be part of the museum’s second-floor permanent installation.
- — Sound installations in Lincoln Castle Revealed, the reopening of the restored castle in Lincoln, England, in Spring 2015 – Lincoln Castle, in Lincoln, England, renowned as the home of one of the four copies of the 1215 Magna Carta, will reopen after a four-year renovation in Spring 2015, to mark the landmark charter’s 800th anniversary. Morrow has created a series of True 3D soundscapes to bring to life the Magna Carta Vault (the display of the castle’s copy of the 1215 Magna Carta and the 1217 Charter of the Forests), interpreting the scene of King John’s sealing of the document with recordings of the Lincoln Cathedral Choir in situ; and Lincoln Castle Prison and Prison Chapel, evoking the authentic environment of the Victorian prison with sounds of prisoners and Chapel services, featuring contributions from noted British TV actor Keith Barron as Chaplain.
- — MorrowSound 360 Virtual Reality Experience: The First Use of MorrowSound 360° VR Sound Software with Oculus VR at Heureka, The Finnish Science Centre, in Vantaa, Finland, in Spring 2015 – For the first time, MorrowSound 360° VR sound system, unique in the world of sound design, will be combined with the Oculus virtual reality technology, and incorporated into a “virtual reality experience” that will be presented at Heureka, The Finnish Science Centre in Vantaa, Finland, in Spring 2015. The MorrowSound 360 Virtual Reality Experience includes Harri Koskinen’s VR chair and invites visitors to exclusive site-oriented programming – e.g., a helicopter flyover or a tour through time – using an Oculus VR or similar virtual reality device, and listening through headphones to sound using MorrowSound 360° sound system – allowing a spherical cinema experience that adjusts both the visual and aural perceptions to the user’s motions.
A Case In Point: A Competition for Performances of John Cage’s 4’33” in Berlin and New York
Charlie Morrow calls avant-garde music pioneer John Cage “my patron saint.” On November 16, 2014, Charles Morrow Productions presented an event that took place simultaneously at Galerie Mario Mazzoli, Berlin, and the Ear Up! Gallery at the fabled Ear Inn in New York City: a looped installation of 12 finalists, selected from 37 submissions, of the David Tudor Memorial 4’33” Competition, a “celebration and rethinking of impermanence” curated by Charlie Morrow and Christopher Williams, and named for the pianist who premiered the landmark John Cage work, four minutes and 33 seconds of no intentional sound.
Recordings of 4’33” – essentially recordings of 12 sound environments – submitted by those including composer Phil Niblock, artist Nina Kuo, and sound artist Andres Bosshard, were experienced in 3D using Morrow’s Sound Cube, a surrounding system of eight speakers creating an immersive sound space. The recordings – which were made with systems of varying sophistication – were channeled by the Sound Cube to create an immersive 3D sonic location for each.
The winner was writer and radio DJ Bart Plantenga, and the two runners-up Sirpa Jokinen and Stephen Flinn. The program also featured recordings, also played through the Sound Cube, of six works by Fluxus composers Alison Knowles, Simone Forti, Dick Higgins, Geoff Hendricks, Sten Hanson, and Robert Filliou.
What is MorrowSound® True 3D Sound?
Using Morrow’s Sound Cube, a surrounding system of eight speakers, True 3D sound projects sound above and below the listening plane, creating the illusion of an expanded space where sound moves up, down and around.
- –True 3D sounds allow many separate sounds to be heard simultaneously, each from its own location.
- –True 3D sound can be layered vertically as well as horizontally.
- –True 3D sound can emulate the motion of sound in a 3D space.
True 3D sound has been showcased at major venues and events around the world, including the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics, and 2009 Design Week Helsinki.
The Charlie Morrow Archive in Barton, Vermont, now houses Morrow’s scores, writings, designs, correspondence, media, publications and artifacts.