Sonic Possibilities

July through September 30, 2021

Music/Media Library | Miller Nichols Library, Ground Floor

If you were to listen to your immediate surroundings, and I mean really listen, how would you experience it? Would you hear it as unorganized sounds with no inherent musical correlation, or rather a complex series of subtle shifts and variations? Do aspects such as identifiable rhythm or pitch need to be present in order for sounds to be considered music? If not, can any collection of sounds in any given setting be music? Essentially, what has been defined is known as a soundscape, or an acoustic environment as it is perceived by people.

Many composers and creators have attempted to bring this idea of soundscapes into explicitly musical contexts. For example, John Cage’s infamous 4’33” is a piece in which any amount or combination of musicians and their instruments remain quiet or “tacet” for a whole 4 minutes and 33 seconds. The goal of this piece was to allow audience members the opportunity to listen to and think about small and subtle sounds of their immediate setting. On the other hand, Brian Eno’s Ambient 4: On Land features pieces composed with a focus on the small and subtle shift of timbres and sound colors – much like how some soundscapes behave. Eno coined the term “ambient music” to describe the type of music. Alongside ambient music would be minimalism, which is a genre of music oftentimes containing repetitive phrases that develop and alter in small or subtle ways, sometimes even unnoticeable. Sound familiar? 

Of the displayed books, there lies a combination of items attempting to explain the aesthetic discussed, such as Kyle Gann’s No Such Thing as Silence, or R. Murray Shafer’s The Tuning of the World, and items detailing notable composers of the desired aesthetic, like Brian Eno and Meredith Monk. The display also includes compositions by these composers, as well as many others. David Arkenstone’s Ambient World is included as an album featuring beautiful music of the ambient and minimalist nature. Found in the Naxos Music Library, Natasha Barrett’s Puzzle Wood is a work solely focused on creating and manipulating sonic environments, explored in an interview in Computer Music Journal, accessible through the library catalog. Also in Naxos is various work by the Deep Listening Band, including Pauline Oliveros and others. According to, “She described Deep Listening as a way of listening in every possible way to everything possible to hear no matter what you are doing.”

Did you know Kansas City is home to one of the nation’s best-known recording labels for  minimalist and electroacoustic music?  Irritable Hedgehog was founded in 2010 and produces critically acclaimed albums of minimalist/ambient music, much of it recorded right here at the UMKC Conservatory.  Their catalog includes work by Jürg Frey, Tom Johnson and Ann Southam.

Look closely, listen intently, and explore the world of “Sonic Possibilities.”

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Case dimensions: 5’ long x 30” wide x 9” high sitting atop 3’ legs

Glass exhibit table


The First Floor Gallery is located just inside the main entrance of the Miller Nichols Library.

Wall with exhibit content

Conference Room 325

Located on the Third Floor of Miller Nichols Library. For access, enter the library at the north ground floor entrance or the west first floor entrance. Then take the stairs or the elevator to the third floor..

Map of third floor of Miller Nichols Library