Capturing the Sounds of the Prairie with Jessica Kilroy

For three weeks, I was alone out here on the American Prairie Reserve before I was joined by photographer Eugenie Frerichs and musician Jessica Kilroy. I first met Jessica at the Rabbit Island Residency in 2013 where she was recording sounds in nature to use in a piece of music she was composing. When one morning I saw Jessica’s smiling face emerge from a cold wet bivouac after a miserable night of rain, I knew we would be a great match if we ever worked together on a creative project. She has a unique set of strengths derived from her diverse experiences as a touring musician, songwriter, composer of film scores, wilderness guide, hotshot firefighter, rock climber, and high angle wind power technician. She’s capable and tough, with a can-do attitude and an ambitious creative spirit.

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photo by Eugenie Frerichs

We started chatting about the prairie six months ago, tossing around ideas about the kind of inspiration we might find out here for painting and music. I had never been to Montana, so my expectations were formed by youtube videos and online research, but Jessica is a Montana native and I thought that her interpretations of the place and it’s spirit would be undeniably authentic. Together, we decided on a vision for a gallery exhibit with my paintings on the wall and Jessica’s music filling the air.

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photo by Eugenie Frerichs

During my three weeks painting alone, the importance of the prairie soundscape has become even more apparent to me. Each morning I’ve been waking at dawn and driving a few miles out into the open grasslands with my morning coffee. These peaceful hours have been filled with the songs of meadowlarks, owls, and coyotes. As the sun climbs higher in the sky, crickets join the chorus and wind whistles through the grass. The day slips by while I’m lost in concentration at my easel, but the sounds of the prairie have been a constant companion. When darkness comes, the wind dies down and the bass notes of frogs fill the air. It truly is a remarkable experience to enjoy a place so free of human-generated noise.

When Jessica arrived, she hit the ground running and captured a rich variety of sounds, including birdsong, a rabbit thumping it’s foot, percussion made with rocks on the gumbo clay, cricket chirps, and an owl. She is using these to create rhythms that will accompany vocals and instrumentation in a song inspired by the prairie. By the end of this visit, Jessica will have a track recorded to share with my paintings at Telluride Mountainfilm on May 22 at the Stronghouse Gallery. However, this is just the beginning of a larger vision she has to produce a whole album of songs that weave together sounds recorded on the American Prairie Reserve with lyrics and music inspired by this landscape. Her work will highlight the importance of an unpolluted natural soundscape and the role of audio frequencies in a healthy, balanced ecosystem. A portion of the proceeds from album sales will go towards the American Prairie Reserve. When exhibited together, my paintings and Jessica’s music will give the viewer an immersive experience in the prairie. Ultimately, this work will celebrate the significance of this unique moment in conservation history and inspire a new appreciation for this iconic American landscape.

You can follow the progress of Jessica’s work and learn more about soundscapes on her websitesoundcloud, and  Instagram. To hear some recording of her previous work under her band names pterodactyl plains and Flitcraft follow those links.

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Using portable field recording equipment, Jessica Kilroy records sounds like these rocks to use in her musical compositions. Photo by Eugenie Frerichs

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High in a cottonwood, Jessica Kilroy capturing the sounds of leaves rustling in the wind. Photo by Eugenie Frerichs

Since my last post, I’ve finished a few more paintings to share. Coming up next, I’ll be talking about this project and my influences at Twenty (by) Telluride this Wednesday night at the Sheridan Bar. On May 22, Jessica and I will be at the Stronghouse gallery in Telluride during the Mountainfilm gallery walk.

In addition to sharing my work at Mountainfilm, I make an appearance in one of the films that is premiering at this festival: Rabbit Island, filmed and directed by Ben Moon, tells the story of an artist’s residency in Lake Superior founded and run by my partner Rob Gorski. Jessica Kilroy’s field recordings are featured in the film and we will be there to see it May 23rd at 3:15 PM and May 24 at 9:15 AM at the Nugget Theater.

 

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