Palo Alto Weekly

- March 22, 2013

One drop at a time

Local musician builds community with 'rain making' event

by Sue Dremann

Herb Moore says he knows how to make rain, even on a sunny day. Sitting in Heritage Park in Palo Alto on Wednesday morning, Moore, a musician, displayed an array of instruments made from found objects and scrap materials. With them, he can simulate a rain storm: a 7-foot-long plastic drain pipe filled with pebbles — the tumbling stones make a sound like torrential rain; old tuna cans; rubber bands plinking against jar lids; and sheet aluminum, which sounds like clapping thunder.

Water is Moore's favorite element. Aquarius is his astrological sign. A semi-retired technical writer, he is a lifelong musician who has played instruments from found materials since the 1970s. He calls the art of making music with found objects Scrapophony.

Water fascinates him because it is soothing. Philosophically and physically he feels aligned with water, he said.

"It is a big part of our bodies; we need it to live. It is tremendously powerful metaphorically — the watercourse way," he said of the Taoist philosophy of adapting like flowing water to life's problems.

On Friday, March 22, he planned to gather with residents to create a "rain orchestra" in the park. The plinking and plunking of water droplets, the crash of thunder and eventual downpour of sound would be part of Be a Drop in the Bucket, a community-building event that coincided with the 20th anniversary of the United Nations' World Water Day, which advocates sustainable management of water resources.

Rain music is a metaphor for building community to solve life's problems, he said. As individuals in a fast-paced society, many people feel overwhelmed by the problems at their doorstep. But "individually we are like one drop, but together we can fill a bucket," he said.

Moore said his philosophy of "music as community" is meant to bring people together — to find ways with improvisational neighborhood musical events to explore ideas and new approaches to problems.

He also sought new approaches to making music. He started playing a traditional instrument — a guitar — while a youth in McLean, Va. In the parking lots where men hung out to jam, Moore picked up the "real oral" tradition of Carter Family-style Scotch-Irish music, he said.

But he started making music with scrap materials, including a xylophone, when he couldn't afford more expensive professional instruments, he said. He soon became interested in exploring all kinds of sounds.

Moore spent five years recording the sounds of water, from raindrops to rushing rivers. He traversed Bay Area mountains and went into the Sierras to expand his aural canvas. From his collection of soundscapes, he created a CD entitled H2-Overture.

He also collaborated with Palo Alto artist Steve Curl on a slideshow called Water Color Music, which can be viewed at Moore's website, www.melosync.com.

"I think of music as being like a cosmic river that is always there. From time to time, we scoop up a bit of the river and put it into bottles of different shapes and colors which we call songs, symphonies, operas or whatever. Or maybe we create a more free flowing fountain (improvisation)," he notes on his website.

Moore creates a tapestry of sound, taking into consideration ambient sound as the canvas for the community sound-paintings, he said.

Since landing in Palo Alto in 1968, he has performed scrapophony at Stanford, Menlo Park's Peninsula School, Palo Alto neighborhood and community venues that include farmers markets, dance classes and Common Ground's garden-share events.

He performed at Stanford in the 1992 John Cage @ Stanford Music Circus and created music for the July 2003 dance performance "Along the River" by Karin Cabello-Moriarty. That event took place at Andy Goldsworthy's Stone River sculpture outside Stanford University's Cantor Arts Center.

During several days that year, he recorded the vocalizations of Sophia Sachs, a Palo Alto toddler who had a rare, genetic disorder called Neimann-Pick Type A. He wrote music based on the numerical sequence associated with the enzyme the child lacked, incorporating her voice. Sophia was said to pulse her hands to the music.

Moore has also used his music at corporate workshops and team-building events.

"It's a good metaphor for teamwork," he said. He sees himself as the catalyst for conversation, but he doesn't have a big agenda, he added. But sometimes conversations do come out of playing the music.

"It is a way if nothing else for people to just have a good time. I think music is wonderful. In our culture, what we've done is we've tended to make music a specialized art form where we have stars and we think only a few people can play music. We've lost a little bit of that sense of music as a participatory activity," he said.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at sdremann@paweekly.com.

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