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Hugh Livingston

The Pool of 'Bamboo Counterpoint' (2014) / String Quartet and 22 Intermissions (Please Be Seated) (2015) / Garden Quartet, Mostly Intermezzos, Some Preludes, No Cadenzas (2016)

 The Pool of  'Bamboo Counterpoint'  (2014)

The Pool of 'Bamboo Counterpoint,'  image courtesy Hugh Livingston
The Pool of 'Bamboo Counterpoint,' image courtesy Hugh Livingston

Between 2014 and 2016, Dumbarton Oaks presented a sound sculpture in the Lovers’ Lane Pool titled The Pool of ‘Bamboo Counterpoint’. The creation of composer Hugh Livingston, the installation consisted of twelve speakers mounted on clear acrylic pipes, an imaginary chorus on a watery stage. A soundscape of recordings collected in the gardens—bird song and wind, for instance—augmented by melodic materials was composed, some recorded on the piano in the Music Room, some from percussion instruments made of bamboo from the garden. From a distance, visitors were able to perceive the chorus as a melded whole. Up close, the individual components and their counterpoint became articulated. Sound was modulated by the surface of the water and the enclosure created by the amphitheater, bamboo grove, and adjacent bank. The computer-controlled soundscape generated constant variations from its source material, and changed from solemn to meditative to lively throughout the day.

Dr. Livingston’s project was the fourth in a series of occasional installations of contemporary art at Dumbarton Oaks, intended to provide unexpected experiences of the institution’s historic gardens. The project was jointly organized by the garden staff with the Garden and Landscape Studies program.

Experience the installation on video. Read the review in The American Society of Landscape Architect's blog The Dirt  (5.20.14)

String Quartet and 22 Intermissions (Please Be Seated) (2015)

Garden Quartet, Mostly Intermezzos, Some Preludes, No Cadenzas (2016)

Photo courtesy Anatole Tchikine
Photo courtesy Anatole Tchikine

Hugh Livingston’s string quartet presents the visitor with two unusual experiences: First, the feeling of the instrument’s fundamental resonances, radiating through the chair into the body. Second, the true nature of the counterpoint between intertwined individual voices of a string quartet. By placing the listener at the center of this interchange, rather than at the distance typical of a concert hall, a new insight is offered into the essence of chamber composition. The voices of the quartet are in fact all cello, recorded by the composer.

Garden designer Beatrix Farrand wrote that with the sound of falling water and wood thrush, peace comes ‘dropping slow’ to the garden at Dumbarton Oaks. She was referencing “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” in which William Butler Yeats writes, “And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow, Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings.” While the energy of the composition changes from moment to moment, many of the 23 sections reference either the sound of the wood thrush, or the feeling of peace descending on the garden.

About the Artist

Hugh Livingston graduated cum laude in music from Yale, has an MFA in contemporary music from the California Institute of the Arts and a doctorate from UC San Diego. He has sound gardens in public and private locations around the world. Hugh’s outdoor opera, Stages of the River, will be performed in June 2014 on the banks of the Russian River in Healdsburg, California. Hugh has been a McKnight Foundation Composer fellow and had a long career as a cello soloist. Further information is available at