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Plugging into Nature Electronically

Connecting with nature is a great way to get the creative juices flowing. And it’s not just for acoustic instruments anymore.

I remember seeing a promotional photo of my favorite electronic band, Tangerine Dream set up in a field with their stacks of electronic music equipment, even Edgar’s electric guitar rig. What a strange sight! It was quite the juxtaposition of man-made technology and nature’s organic beauty. I mean aside from the obvious, “where do I plug this stuff in”; the accouterments of electronic music should be on a stark artificially lit industrial-looking stage, not a cow pasture! In my mind, at least, I associate being in nature with acoustic instruments like an acoustic guitar, penny flute, or a plucky ukulele; and while much of this goes back again to the practical problems of no power outlets, acoustic instruments just sound more organic, warm and natural, right?

So, for those of us who love nature and instruments you plug in, are we relegated to only indoor performance, or can we dare take our sound generators outdoors to a different field of view? Fortunately, the ever-evolving frontier of electric sound and its power sources make it easier than ever to be portable. With tiny pocket-sized synths, sequencers, and music-making apps on our phones we can make “music from Mars” right in our backyard or on top of ole Smoky or whatever mountain you might be close to.

“So why would we” you might ask. Well, there is a proverbial fountainhead of endless sounds and energies to tap into in nature at any given time! After all, where did the drone, the percussive thump, or the rhythmic gurgle come from to start with? If you don’t know, go sit by a stream or small brook, or listen to the insects at night in some country grove and experience the plethora of sounds, “young grasshopper!” Also being in different spaces and seeing different sights when creating music is always good for our muse and nature is always teeming with vibrant energy and motion everywhere! I am in no way discounting getting mobile in an urban setting either; there are all kinds of sounds and rhythms to be found in the city.

I learned this great lesson through experience on two different occasions with my cousin and music partner Jeremy. After a long hiatus from playing music together, we met at a Kroger deli and improvised music via a small mixing board and headphones with me running my Strat into a pocket pod and delay pedal. Just over a year ago we met up in a park downtown and recorded over an hour’s worth of music sitting at a picnic table and this time using a battery-powered setup. The novelty and even slight discomfort of a new setting coupled with the unique energy and vibe of where we were playing fueled new enthusiasm and creativity. Lesson learned, cow pasture here I come! Seriously though, I am pretty stoked about plugging in while in nature and consequently plugging into nature.

I don’t imagine Tangerine Dream ever gave a concert sitting in the middle of a field, or even a Kroger deli for that matter, but that eye-catching promotional photo has become for me a symbol of the invisible connection between electronic music and the source of sound, nature. Hopefully, in the future, I will have more opportunities to talk with you about some of the devices and techniques that I use to make electronic music more mobile and accessible. See you in the park!

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