Preserves of SSU integrate environment, art and science
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A large crowd of people from the community and Sonoma State University gathered in Weill Hall on Dec. 6 to watch the unique encore performance of the “Soundscape Project,” as well as to listen to a panel of its collaborators – including world renowned bio-acoustician Dr. Bernie Krause.

The “Soundscape Project” was a dance showcase choreographed to a soundtrack of the natural sounds and voices of Sonoma State University’s Preserves that blended the environment, engineering science and art into one cohesive ecosystem. The project was largely inspired by the Preserves’ unique habitats, wildlife and sounds.

Nestled within the beauty of Sonoma County’s natural landscape, the Preserves consist of three sites that contain a boundless amount of natural life, serving as SSU’s outdoor classrooms for environmental education, observations and research.

Preserves Director Claudia Luke said she was inspired to create the Soundscape Project when she took a tour of Weill Hall shortly after visiting one of the Preserves, the Fairfield Osborn Preserve on Sonoma Mountain.

“I look for ways to engage students from all disciplines and backgrounds in the most crucial issue of our time: the environment,” said Luke. “The idea – to grant the sounds of nature at our Preserves the same reverence we give to the sounds of a classical orchestra – blossomed into a true collaboration between the arts and sciences.”

“One of the most pristine places to record is in Sonoma County, and the Preserves are in our own backyard,” said Krause, whose recordings of the Preserves’ natural sounds accompanied the dancers. 

“They’re wonderful places for people to record and listen. I would encourage anyone, whether they record it or simply use their ears, to listen to the beautiful sounds of Sonoma County.”

Barbara Mackenzie, a member of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute advisory board, said that her deep involvement with SSU motivated her to become a trained volunteer naturalist for the Preserves.

“There’s a connection between the community, the university and the landscape, but these connections haven’t always been made,” said her husband Jake Mackenzie, a 17-year Rohnert Park city council member and chair of the Russian River Watershed Association. “This integration was a brave effort. The more we can have this sort of work, the more students will realize how it is all connected.”

The project was funded in part through the Green Music Center’s Academic Integration Grant and a Sonoma County Community Foundation Grant.

“Working on this project changed the way we hear the world,” said Kristen Daley, chair of the Theatre Arts and Dance Department and a choreographer of the project. “In creating this work, we deeply explored the sounds, terrain and stories of the Preserves, in an attempt to say something meaningful about this sacred place.”

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