How Musical Land Art Can Enrich Your Life and Musicianship

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PNW Productions/Pexels
Source: PNW Productions/Pexels

The Gestalt psychotherapist Fritz Perls taught us that to fully engage with the present, what he called the here and now, is to come into authentic contact with our environment, others, and ourselves. Authenticity refers to a genuine connection that is free of guardedness and phony self-presentation.

We frequently allow ourselves to become distracted by memory (past) and fantasy (future). Depression is closely linked with living in the past, while anxiety is associated with trying to control the future. When we ruminate on the past, we experience depression. Neurotic fixation on controlling what has yet to come, the future, is the cause of anxiety. When fully engaged with the present, we have no room for memory or fantasy, depression or anxiety.

Coming into authentic contact with ourselves and with others can be terrifying, therefore we often avoid this authentic contact by becoming distracted by the past and the future. As mindful meditation offers us a method for remaining in the here and now, so does listening to and making music.

Music-making as a way of making contact with ourselves, others, and our environment can be done through land art. Land art can be visual, theatrical, musical, or through dance.

Musical land art allows those who do not play an instrument to create and perform music with others. Land art allows those who do play an instrument to experience music-making in a fresh way. The process allows members to communicate in ways that are often overlooked in everyday life.

Exploring musical land art

I use a method for musical land art that I learned in an expressive arts therapy class at The European Graduate School, in Saas-Fee, Switzerland. The course was designed to work with couples in facilitating presence, communication, and genuine connection.

To begin, the leader asks the members of a small group to find a partner. The leader tells the group that he will lead them to a spot in the woods where the land art will take place. No one is to speak during this walk to the destination. All communication must take place by pointing to things encountered that one would like to share with their partner. This nonverbal communication forces the partners to remain present with one another.

Walking to the destination, partners come into authentic contact with each other in the here and now. There is no speculation about meaning, there is no rumination about what has happened in the past, and there is no anxious anticipation about the future. Simply being present in the immediate experience allows partners to connect in a way that might not have happened in many years. This exercise prepares the group members for what is about to take place in making land art and puts each member in a mood that encourages creativity and authenticity.

When the group arrives at the destination, the leader asks all to join in a circle. Members are then told that they will each spend a period of time alone in the area. Each member goes off into the general area to explore and meditate on something that captures their attention. They are asked to consider some question that is important in their life and to find metaphorical answers in nature. After a period of time, usually about 20 minutes, the leader will summon the members back to the circle.

Each member is asked to share their meditation and discovery with the group. This allows the group to integrate and bond between partner and group. Each member is asked to recall some musical quality of their meditation, some rhythm, tempo, melody, or harmony that they became aware of in the environment.

The group is then asked to take time to compose a piece of music based on the musical experiences that each member has shared with the group. A collective composition is then performed by the members of the group. Finally, the group is led out of the woods in silence, allowing all to contemplate and reflect on the experience they have just had.

Musical land art teaches us the process of tuning in to the here and now and maintaining that presence when faced with the habit of drifting into memory or fantasy. Remaining in the present eliminates the melancholy that accompanies memory and the worrisome anxiety that can accompany fantasizing about the future. While remaining in the here and now, we come into better contact with our authentic selves, with others, and with our environment. The process of making and performing music within the environment allows for a connection with others, with our surroundings, and with our genuine selves.