What is Plein Air Music?

What is Plein Air Music?

>>Dictionary: plein air or plein-air (plān’âr’, plÄ•-nÄ•r’) adj. Of or being a style of painting produced out of doors in natural light.

Taking place outdoors: plein air dining. (1)<<


>>Plein Air (French for “open air”) painting became popular in the early nineteenth century in both Europe and America when paint manufacturers made a wide range of pre-mixed oil pigments available for the first time, and the easily transportable box easel, or pochade (2) (quick sketch) box, was developed. Artists could finally take their work into the field with ease—the artist could, as Monet wrote, “…paint the air in which are situated the bridge, the home, the boat.”


These artists paint natural light, using color to define form. Plein Air artists generally paint “ala prima,” laying down a scene with quick broad, colorful brush strokes, foregoing the typical ‘building up’ of paint. Depending on the light and weather, Plein Air paintings are generally done in one session. Artists often add final touches to their work once back in the studio. (3)<<


I have been creating music en plein air for the past year or so. There is a short video (4) showing me playing percussion (gongs, tabla, cymbals) in the ‘Japanese Garden’ in Lithia Park [like Mary’s little lamb attending school, it was against the rules, but i didn’t bother anybody]. With my camper, solar panels, and laptop and a bit more, i have a ‘pochade recording studio’, which i’ve used while camping or picknicking to make music. I took my electric ‘sitar’, large Pignose amp (“The Hog”) and laptop up Pilot Rock to play. I set up at the edge of Tenaya Lake in Yosemite National Park [also against the rules, but no humans were near, and birds seemed to like it] and inside a tree in Redwood National Park [‘they’ tried to stop me (“You can’t camp here!”) but it wasn’t actually against any rules they could find]. I am absolutely trying to not bother anyone, don’t play audibly if i think it might, and would stop if anyone asked me to or indicated displeasure.

Unlike your neighbor’s stereo at 3 am (or a drum circle), the sound of wind chimes, a cello, flute, (and my ‘sitar’ i think) wafts. The problem with ‘regular’ music (in this context) is that from a distance only certain (usually the lowest) frequencies can be heard, which is usually very annoying, even if one would like it if they could hear them all. A drum circle is like a snowmobile as a cello is like a skiier. Car audio, subwoofer, thump, thump, thump [the bassline to one Fleetwood Mac song is identical to the bassline of a Pablo Cruz song, i know this thanks to — the meth-head (formerly) next door]. People who have have encountered me playing en plein air have all been delighted (or real polite perhaps…). A lady hiking on Grizzly Peak reported that her young daughter asked, “Is that fairies?” as my ‘gently weeping’ ‘sitar’ wafted to them. Another commented: “It sounds like the universe singing”. Cicadas have gathered to add to the drone, a frog sat next to me as i played. Up Tolman Creek Road overlooking Ashland, a little bird took a riff i played and did a quick little embellishment. I stopped for the day, humbled. It was like Ravi Shankar had strolled by. Try playing an Mbira near chickens sometime. They will dance. Or a didgeridoo near bullfrogs… A short story by Truman Capote is called Music for chameleons. A friend wants us to play in Bigfoot habitat.

Georges Mathieu and Yves Klein are two ‘performance’ painters. Klein painted in front of a tuxedoed audience using nude women as ‘brushes’ (and using his patented International Klein Blue paint) while musicians played his Monotone Symphony (a single 20-minute sustained chord followed by a 20-minute silence). Mathieu would also paint in front of audiences, and there is a film of “Vangelis, improvising live on screen while Mathieu is painting two giant canvases.” (5) So these paintings are in a sense like recordings of a concert. In this sense, my plein air music is like an expressionist plein air painter, we paint/play what we feel, not what we see, and get inspiration juice from the environment. There is no difference sonically in the recording made on Pilot Rock from the instrument played in the studio as i recorded ‘direct’, no microphones. With acoustic instruments and microphones one does get the sound of the place (like inside the tree). I also record (then often greatly modify) the ambient sounds of a place and time, like a babbling brook, construction site, or tidepool. The foghorn at Crescent City was a bit out of tune, so i ‘fixed’ it. But my ‘studio’ recordings have plenty of bluejays and car doors, too.


I would like to play in a cave. On a tiny island on a lake, like Charlton Lake in central Oregon. Abandoned factory. Bryce Canyon. Joshua Tree. Mars.



2. >>A pochade (from French poche, pocket) is a type of sketch used in painting. As opposed to a croquis, which is line art, a pochade captures the colors and atmosphere of a scene.<< [wikipedia]




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The Toggle is Jim Spiri, sometimes with guest musicians. I play computer, keyboards, Roland HandSonic percussion unit, Ashbory bass, modified western electric sitar, Hawaiian lap steel vina/"Pete Townshend tambura", gamelan instruments, gongs, tabla, dumbek, etc. There are elements of world music, minimalism, ambient music, etc. Often using non-western scales and tunings. The music also has meditative and healing properties. Sound and video on . Available for live performance for receptions and other events, therapy/healing, belly dance...
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