The El Paso Community Foundation is kicking off its fourth Jewel Box Series with an unconventional show that’s sure to entice a mixture of artists, scientists and curious travelers.
This Sunday, Oct. 8, New Mexico-based artist Brack Morrow will drive his Smart car-sized sculpture Earth Aural Rover 1 onto the Philanthropy Theatre stage. The solar-powered piece is inspired by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover and is a combination of musical instruments that include a 1949 Baldwin piano, a 1917 Victrola phonograph, a banjo and a trumpet.
“I worked on it pretty solid for almost two months in my studio where I have the tools to complete such a project,” Morrow said about the sculpture that weighs nearly 500 pounds. “The most time-consuming part was locating just the right musical instruments to emulate Curiosity’s form.”
During the Jewel Box show, New Mexico State University professor of saxophone and music theory Rhonda Taylor and John Oglin, a physics instructor at El Paso Community College, will display the rover’s capabilities in front of a scenic backdrop inspired by nature and technology.
“I’m very interested in Earth’s climate science,” Morrow said. “I’m concerned about the health of our home planet. Every day, scientists are discovering new and interesting facts about our climate and how Earth is a symbiotic system.”
The symbiotic system also inspired Morrow to have the rover record sounds from across the U.S., capturing elements of nature and urban life.
“I have taken the EAR1 project coast to coast, from Boston to the Seattle area,” Morrow said. “I most often work in remote areas, but have explored cities as well.”
Morrow will give what he calls a TED-style talk after the presentation, followed by a 20-minute film about EAR1’s journey across the states.
EAR1 was also inspired by Morrow’s fascination with neuroscience.
“In recent years, neuroscientists have been placing musicians in functional MRIs in an effort to study how their brains work while they are listening to or playing music,” Morrow said. “Among the things they discovered is that music activates the human brain more than with any other activity. I reason that if our brains are most engaged with sound, then this is an ideal vehicle for me to explore creative ideas.”
Part of what Morrow enjoys about his project is studying the reactions people have about EAR1, which might journey to a museum in Montana in the spring.
“People are inherently curious and really respond to the playful nature of the project,” said Morrow, who also teaches at EPCC. “Since I work with and collaborate with folks from varied knowledge bases, I get to observe a variety of reactions. For example, scientists are usually a little skeptical about the pragmatic usefulness of the project. But after further discussion and time spent kicking around ideas, they too usually see the value in thinking outside the box.”
And thinking outside of the box is exactly the goal of Impact Programs of Excellence, a local non-profit that has brought a plethora of critically acclaimed guests to El Paso for 36 years. This includes British bestselling author and arts and education advisor Sir Kenneth Robinson and famous filmmaker and historian Peter Bogdanovich.
Sunday’s show is another testament to the nonprofit living up to its name by bringing shows that are impactful.