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Gelsey Bell and Joseph White: Meander

Gelsey Bell and Joseph White: Meander

Tours | Art in the Garden | Audio Walk

Starts at the Visitor Center
Listen on Your Personal Device

Meander is a site-specific sound walk created for Brooklyn Botanic Garden that guides listeners on a meditative stroll into the natural landscape.

Best experienced using headphones. To avoid interruptions, consider switching your phone to “do not disturb” mode.

Running time 23:17

Created by Joseph White and HERE Arts Residency Program artist Gelsey Bell, the composers who brought you Cairns (included on the New York Times “Best Theater of 2020” list), Meander encourages listeners to watch, listen, and reset their clocks to pastoral temporality, inviting them to sink into the complex patterns and fine details of the natural environment. Listen and explore at the Garden or see the virtual audio walk below while you listen from home. Meander is copresented with HERE.

About the Artists

Music and words by Joseph White and Gelsey Bell
Narration, vocals, and daxophone by Gelsey Bell
Narration, keyboards, and electronics by Joseph White
Mixed by Brent Arnold
Mastered by Ithaca

Gelsey Bell is a singer, songwriter, and scholar. She has released multiple recordings, is a current HARP Artist at HERE Arts Center, and has received a Foundation for Contemporary Arts award. She is a member of thingNY, Varispeed, and the Chutneys. Performance highlights include Dave Malloy’s Natasha, Pierre, & the Great Comet of 1812 (Broadway) and Ghost Quartet, and Robert Ashley’s Improvement.

Joseph White is a composer, lyricist, and performer. He has worked in theater, experimental pop, and new classical, releasing numerous albums on Gold Bolus Recordings. Recent work includes The Wagging Craze (Ars Nova’s ANTFest, Kyoto International Performing Arts Festival, upcoming at Prague Fringe). He is currently composing new work for thingNY and Popebama.

Acknowledgments

The artists, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and HERE acknowledge that Meander is situated in Lenapehoking, the unceded territory of the Lenape people.

The artists offer thanks to Kristin Marting, Amanda Szeglowski, Ross Karre, Dave Malloy, John Murchison, Takahashi Sachiyo, Anne Cecelia DeMelo, Annie Tippe, and everyone at Brooklyn Botanic Garden and HERE Arts Center for their support.

The OBIE-winning HERE (Kristin Marting, founding artistic director) is a leader in the field of producing and presenting new, hybrid performances viewed as a seamless integration of artistic disciplines—theater, dance, music and opera, puppetry, media, visual and installation, spoken word, and performance art.

Transcript

Joseph (00:05): We’re here by the Visitor Center at Brooklyn Botanic Garden. We have a long, glassy, modernist building behind us and a wooden fence in front of us. It doesn’t quite feel like we're in the Garden yet.

Gelsey (00:18): Though, if you peek through the slats of wood, you can spy a corner of the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden. All right, let's take this path we’re on to the right and start walking. We’re passing the restroom and the cafe. So this spot can get a little crowded; just be mindful of other people as you follow our instructions on where to go.

Joseph (00:42): Also, feel free to pause this at any time. For instance, if you just realized you actually do need to go to the bathroom, I completely get it. We can wait if you need us to.

Gelsey (00:59): We’re starting to see a bunch of trees in front of us and just so you know, even when I’m talking more, Joe’s never far away.

Joseph (01:09): And same for Gelsey. We’re not going to interrupt each other or complete each other’s sentences, but at all times, you and me and Gelsey are gonna be sauntering and jaunting together. At some moments, we’ll have a lot to say. And at other moments, we’ll just shut up and let you enjoy the Garden around you. And even when we’re not talking so much, we’re never going to let you get lost.

Gelsey (01:31): This garden has a boundless variety of smells and eye candy for you to experience. And some of the big attractions like that Japanese Garden we peeked in on are best experienced at your own pace of discovery and observation. So for the next 20 minutes or so, we're going to lead you through one slice of this place and attune ourselves to taking in the natural sights and sounds before you’re encouraged to meander everywhere else on your own. Think of this short walk as just a first act.

Joseph (02:09): When you get to an area with a large lawn on your left and the opening to the Overlook path on your right, stop and behold the view of what is called the Cherry Esplanade.

Gelsey (02:22): Traveling from place to place can sometimes feel like just connecting two dots with some hassle in the middle. Today, we want to try to sink into the lines we trace with our walking. Let’s see how meandering can be not just a description of our activity, but a guiding principle. Let’s start moving, slowly, leisurely across this wide expanse of grass. These lines of cherry trees spreading out in front of us mark a kind of frame for how I take in the landscape. You can hear in the rhythm of my footsteps, I’m moving slower than before in reaction to its grandeur. Do you find yourself walking in a parallel line with the trees or do you trace a curving, snaking, path? I am walking in a straight line in the center of the lawn. I feel an expansiveness. A rush of power born from the symmetry of these trees. Their shadows, the angle of the sun. The sky is so much larger than I am used to.

Gelsey (03:53): Walking with another person is a conversation. You find a rhythm together, your steps listen to each other. The same kind of conversation happens with a landscape. You don’t just see and hear and smell the landscape. Your entire body attends to it in the manner you use to walk through it. Take a moment to slip under the cherry trees if you haven’t already. Everything feels different under here. I love the signature horizontal lines on the trunks of cherry trees. Check out their wealth of color and texture in the shades of brown and gray and green— every trunk as intricate and exquisite as any impressionist painting on the wall of a museum. Some of these trees are pretty young. You can see the range of ages and the variety of thickness of their trunks. None of the trees or plants are much older than the Garden itself, which opened in 1911. This place is a canvas for an infinite variety of lines.

Joseph (05:32): Let’s get ourselves to the end of the Esplanade and stand in front of the small pool and fountain that might be empty or full depending on what time of year it is. Don’t hesitate to pause the track if you need to catch up.

Joseph (05:54): All right, we’re standing facing the fountain pool with our backs to the lawn. Now, let’s walk to our left on the asphalt path. Coming up on our right is an old iron railing with rose bushes and to our left, we should be able to see back down that elegant line of cherry trees. If we keep heading on this course, we should see a wood chip path opening up to our right heading through the trees. Let’s veer onto this path.

Joseph (07:29): Straight ahead we should see this remarkably scraggly tree that looks like it’s out of a fairy-tale. Let’s walk to that tree, crossing through an asphalt roundabout on the way. We should be close to the fairytale tree, which is actually called a Caucasian wingnut. Let’s pause for a few seconds on the path to really take it in.

Joseph (08:19): Okay. Let’s keep walking down this path to our left. As we pass some benches on our right, take a look to your left, where you should see a flat wooden bridge. Let's go off the path now and head for that bridge.

Gelsey (09:21): On the other side of this bridge is a little clearing with a smattering of boulders. Once we get to the clearing, let’s stop for a little bit. These small boulders are perfect for sitting. If you’re not getting in someone else’s way, take a load off, whichever one calls to you. Most likely these big rocks are what geologists call erratics, large stones carried on the back of a glacier at the end of the last ice age. Hitching a ride from maybe upper Manhattan or New Jersey, possibly as far away as Canada. This garden, along with Prospect Park and spots like Greenwood Cemetery or Forest Park in Queens, mark the southernmost edge of a giant ice sheet that covered the entire northern edge of the United States all the way across the country. At its peak, the ice forming over New York City was 250 feet higher than One World Trade Center and as the ice melted, sediment was carried to this area like a kind of gutter. The last stop on the glacial train line.

Gelsey (10:37): To be honest, one of my favorite things about this garden is sitting on rocks. I prefer a boulder over a bench any day. The curves of this rock are as unique and unexpected as the curves of any human body. Being here is in some ways an excuse to take in the world differently. Holding my own body still, I become intensely aware of movement throughout the Garden. At first, I notice all the people moving past this bush or that tree. A blue jay sweeps overhead quickly, the straight line of a plane in the distance. And then I start noticing the infinitely smaller movements of leaves and grasses vibrating rather than going from point A to point B. That is the movement we are also engaged in as we sit on these rocks, our heart beating, our lungs gently expanding and contracting with breath.

Joseph (11:58): In case, you hadn’t noticed, this area is actually a little peninsula. A stream that doesn’t always visibly have water flowing in it is curving around us. The water from the Japanese Garden, where we started, flows down the stream to the Water Garden, which we’ll get to a little later. Then underground pipes circulate the water all the way back to the Japanese Garden. Let’s walk over the narrow patch of grass leading off the peninsula towards the large glass Conservatory in the distance. It’s the only way to exit besides the bridge. As we walk through the slender pathway, hug the edge of the grass and the low railing on your right. It’ll open up to a lush and expansive lawn. We just want to keep following the plants and stream to our right.

Gelsey (13:01): As we’re curving with the flow of water moving downstream, you should be able to start seeing the pebbles and rocks that line the creek—pebbles moved by the water just like these big erratic boulders were moved by the melting glacier, makes me feel as small as an ant. Let's pause on this wooden bridge to our right so we can get a nice view of the stream. The word meander, the verb and scientific term, comes from the Meander River in Turkey. In an earlier part of Eqrth’s history, over 500 million years ago, rivers and streams did not yet meander. They simply flowed in a straight line because plants with roots had not yet evolved. This meandering is a product of life’s entwinement with water. To meander is to react to what and who is around you.

Joseph (14:18): Let’s keep walking, crossing the bridge and taking a left. Now walk straight to the asphalt path in front of you. And then walk over this wooden bridge going off to your left.

Gelsey (15:23): At the end of the bridge, turn right and walk across the lawn with the glass Conservatory on your left. In front of you, the lawn splits to the left and right of a fenced area. Let's continue to the left. You’ll start to see that it is the creek on your right. Just keep following it. And we’re still walking slightly downhill in the direction of the water flow.

Joseph (16:04): When you make it to an asphalt path, turn right and follow it to an area of the road with stone sides. The road crosses the creek here, but it barely registers as a bridge. On the other side, take a left and you’ll find yourself in another green lawn with scattered trees. The creek continues on your left and opens up to a large pond ahead of you. As we come to the end of our jaunt together, let's try a little exercise in focusing our attention. Earlier, we took in the vast open sky over the Cherry Esplanade and its long majestic lines of trees. I want us now to slow down and focus on what’s so close at hand it's actually right at our feet. Let’s find a little patch of ground where we’ll be out of anyone else’s way.

Joseph (18:04): Once we’ve found a good spot, let’s look down at our shoes. We’re going to take a small step as slowly as is comfortable, very slowly. Now let’s take another small step, still looking at the ground and we’re going to keep stepping very slowly with small movements. You might actually feel like you’re walking like a penguin, but that’s okay. We can walk in a little circle or more in a straight line, just make sure you’re not going to run into anything. And as we walk very slowly, still looking down, let’s notice the way our breath moves in and out and the shifting kaleidoscope of lines, textures, and colors in our field of vision. Let’s keep walking like this for a little while.

Joseph (19:52): If you want, while you keep walking very slowly, bring your head up and see the detail of what’s around you and above you.

Joseph (21:28): Okay, how was that?

Gelsey (21:35): I’ve made my way to the edge of the big pond, come join me over here. I’m taking in what is around me in more complex detail than I was before. I no longer see just a tree or the surface of the water. Everything is alive with a symphony of crisp and infinite complexity. Our senses each contain their own intelligence with perception always including the action of making sense. I see line as I look for line, I hear the birds when I listen for the birds, our attention is a muscle to keep in shape. It bounces off of people and historical events, off of my screens and the grass under my feet. Like, they're the roots and rocks lining my stream. You may have noticed that you haven't truly meandered yet. You’ve been dutifully following Joe and me and we've been happy to have your company. But this is just a warm-up to the real event. The one where you trace your own line and meander following your own compass. So, where shall we turn our attention to now?



A Virtual Audio Walk

Listen to Meander at home and enjoy winter scenes from the Garden. Photography by Michael Stewart.

This garden has a boundless variety of smells and eye candy for you to experience. ... Think of this short walk as just a first act.

When you get to an area with a large lawn on your left and the opening to the Overlook path on your right, stop and behold the view of what is called the Cherry Esplanade.

Take a moment to slip under the cherry trees....

I love the signature horizontal lines on the trunks of cherry trees. Check out their wealth of color and texture in the shades of brown and gray and green—every trunk as intricate and exquisite as any impressionist painting on the wall of a museum.

Straight ahead we should see this remarkably scraggly tree that looks like it’s out of a fairy-tale.

On the other side of this bridge is a little clearing with a smattering of boulders. Most likely these big rocks are what geologists call erratics, large stones carried on the back of a glacier at the end of the last ice age.

A blue jay swoops overhead.... I start noticing the infinitely smaller movements of leaves and grasses vibrating rather than going from point A to point B.

As we’re curving with the flow of water moving downstream, you should be able to start seeing the pebbles and rocks that line the creek—pebbles moved by the water just like these big erratic boulders were moved by the melting glacier....

In an earlier part of Earth’s history, rivers and streams did not yet meander. They simply flowed in a straight line, because plants with roots had not yet evolved. This meandering is a product of life’s entwinement with water. To meander is to react to what and who is around you.

The road crosses the creek here, but it barely registers as a bridge.

On the other side, take a left and you’ll find yourself in another green lawn with scattered trees. The creek continues on your left and opens up to a large pond ahead of you.

Let’s find a little patch of ground.... Let’s notice the way our breath moves in and out and the shifting kaleidoscope of lines, textures, and colors in our field of vision.... If you want, while you keep walking very slowly, bring your head up and see the detail of what’s around you and above you.

I’ve made my way to the edge of the big pond.... I’m taking in what is around me in more complex detail than I was before. I no longer see just a tree or the surface of the water. Everything is alive with a symphony of crisp and infinite complexity.

But this is just a warm-up to the real event. The one where you trace your own line and meander following your own compass. So, where shall we turn our attention to now?

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