Todd Barton's noon shows at the Schneider Museum will feature original music from the composer's mind and heart. - Photo by Bob Pennell

Composer follows an aural muse

On several Friday lunch hours this summer, the Schneider Museum of Art offers an escape from kitchen or cafe with sounds of the "shakuhachi," an ancient Japanese bamboo flute, resounding in excellent acoustics amid the art.

It's free, fun, different and not planned out. Longtime local composer and performer Todd Barton — and usually some friends — will wing it, creating the music that comes to them as they interact with each other, listeners and whatever musical sprites happen to be influencing them that day and in that museum, at the east end of Southern Oregon University, near the intersection of Ashland Street with Siskiyou Boulevard.

"Improv is all about listening to the notes I produce and listening to where they take me," says Barton. "Improv with another person is even more exciting. The sounds grow and develop."

Resident composer for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, where he's worked for 42 years, Barton has a thing for both electronic and acoustic instruments and a love for improv that hatches performances "that are a surprise for me and the audience."

In other words, get ready for some original music, never heard by anyone and frequently interwoven with "the haunting, breathy and mysterious tones of the shakuhachi, which sound like the wind in the trees."

Where does the inspiration come from when you walk into a performance without any playlist or sheet music?

From your mind and heart, of course, but, says Barton, also from the audience. "As Pauline Oliveros (electronic composer and accordionist) said, 'if the people onstage are listening, then the people in the audience are listening.' When that works, the audience and performer are one."

As the aural muse of the festival speaks, you suddenly hear tinkling, soothing music, but whence cometh these magical strains?

"Ringtone," says Barton.


"Absolutely," he notes, adding, "I got tired of hearing all these hyper, anxious tones. They'd make me hyper and anxious. These shakuhachi tones take getting used to because they don't grab your attention. But after a while, they kind of say, 'I can't wait to talk to you.' "

Note: you can listen to and download 15 ringtones for $10 from www.toddbarton.com. The site reads, "The shakuhachi flute has been used for meditation and breath work for over a millennium. With shakuhachi ringtones, you'll be gently reminded to take a breath before facing the unexpected."

Barton has been an adjunct professor at SOU since 1972 and teaches musical composition, orchestration and compositional technique and electronic and computer music. He refers to his electronic instruments as "my sonic lego set."

The shows, titled "Soundscape," run from noon to 1 p.m. Fridays, June 24, July 1 and July 8. See www.sou.edu/sma.

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