Eco-inspired musicians arrive to study, express sounds of Houston County


Citizen-artist residency continues its second 2019 installment

What can music and sound teach people about their immediate surroundings, or their eco-cultural community? Houston County will get to explore exactly that, thanks to two musicians who will visit in August: Nick Byron Campbell, a sound artist; and James Spartz, an eco-musicologist. The two are pairing up for the second round of 2019 citizen-artistry for the interdisciplinary Crystal Creek Citizen-Artist Residency (CAIR) program.

What exactly is eco-musicology? Spartz explained, “ [It’s] a broad field of study that considers intersections of music, culture, and nature. Through musical composition, performance, and listening, as well as studies of sound in a variety of built and natural environments, eco-musicology is an emerging field that draws from environmental studies, musicology, ethnography, media studies and environmental communication.” As an eco-musicologist, Spartz wishes to capture the “musical voice of living in driftless Minnesota.”

The residency, based just outside Houston in Mound Prairie, Minn., and which is continuing its partnership with the Houston Arts Resource Council (HARC) for the third year, has hosted a musician, radio producer, podcaster, geographer, food artist, poet, and architectural designer over its first two seasons. This year’s CAIRs include a community organizer and a community documentarian, in addition to Campbell and Spartz.

Campbell grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, then began his musical career as part of the band Arizona while based in New York City. Campbell then moved to Los Angeles and began experimenting in sound-art installations. Frustrated by the limitations of traditional recording and performing, Campbell started finding unique ways to present music that would be visually interesting, sonically beautiful, and conceptually compelling. His goal in his work is to “expand the concept of how music can be created and enjoyed. A lot of experimental music is made to push boundaries in uncomfortable ways for the listener, whereas, I […] create musically pleasing experiences that welcome listeners to be part of the music and disappear into it if they choose.”

Spartz grew up in Rushford, and is currently an assistant professor of environmental communication at Unity College in Maine. His teaching and research interests include understanding the role of place in environmental communication, perceptions of land-use change, and cultural ecosystem services. Within his work, Spartz recognizes place-based art to be “both highly particular and particularly transcendent.” This residency interested him in part because, “this is where I was born and raised,” making him feel particularly qualified to “understand the driftless area and its eco-cultural landscape.” Spartz is especially excited to network with regional musicians and creatives, “in an effort to understand how the driftless landscape and other ecological affordances inspire their work, build on an emerging bioregional identity, and could be used to increase sustainable tourism in Southeast Minnesota.”

Campbell’s goal during his week in Houston County is to complete a temporary sound-art piece in the local forest, creating and performing on an instrument called an “arbow.” “Using piano wire and various tuning elements, trees are turned into playable instruments without harming them.” Spartz’s goals are more academically inclined, as he’s hoping to “make significant progress on a research essay connecting cultural ecosystem services, i.e. nature’s contributions to people; bioregional identity and place-based songwriting as eco-cultural communication.” Together, Campbell and Spartz will be hosting an open mic, where they will share some of their residency goals, as well as invite local creatives up on stage to share and perform music and more.

Campbell and Spartz will be in Houston County from August 4-10. Their open mic event will kick off the week on Monday, August 5, at 6 p.m., at Mainspring (404 East Main Street in Caledonia). Campbell’s arbow will be viewable to the public during their eco-musical community workshop on Friday, August 9, at 6 p.m. at Crystal Creek Canyon Lodge (5830 Oak Forest Lane in Houston). All events are free and open to the public; pre-registration is required for the community workshop, and encouraged for open mic performers. To register, or to help support the CAIR program with a donation, please contact residency coordinator Erin Dorbin at, or visit

The third residency of the year will be by Nik Nerburn of Duluth, Minn., and will take place on September 15-21. Nerburn will host a meet and greet on September 17 and a workshop on September 19. He is an artist who makes films, books, photos, and ‘zines.
]While working as an educator and exhibiting artist, he also develops long-term documentary projects that tell stories about communities and enlarge the common life.

About CAIR

The Crystal Creek Citizen-Artist Residency invites creative professionals from various disciplines to discover Minnesota’s driftless region and connect with the people and places of Houston County. The selected CAIRs will respectively spend seven days producing new works inspired by and in conversation with the region. CAIRs will also share their skills with the community in a series of hands-on workshops.

About the Houston Artist Resource Council

HARC is a 507 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, established to promote the arts, artists, and artisans of the Houston area.


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