Soundscapes and Landscapes: New App Ties MTU-composed Music to Popular Spots

Aerial shot of the Michigan Tech campus
Aerial shot of the Michigan Tech campus
On the waterfront: With the new LISTEN app, visitors to Houghton’s Waterfront Trail and the Quincy Mine property in Hancock will hear music and soundscapes unfold around them.

Using the LISTEN phone app, hear location-specific music and soundscapes along Houghton’s Waterfront Trail and at the Quincy Mine site in Hancock.

When Mary Jennings decided to launch a geolocated app for people experiencing the Copper Country landscape, she knew she wanted to invite local musicians to compose the music. And as the director of programming at Michigan Technological University's Rozsa Center, she didn't have to go far to find them.

Adam Meckler, assistant professor of visual and performing arts and director of jazz studies at Michigan Tech, wrote music to accompany people on Houghton’s Waterfront Trail. Libby Meyer, senior lecturer in visual and performing arts and director of the University’s music composition program, composed the music for those experiencing the Quincy Mine site in Hancock.

Photo of Adam Meckler
Adam Meckler

The idea is for users of the LISTEN app, now available for iPhone and Android devices, to launch the app while strolling each trail. They’ll be treated to an experience similar to one that the Washington Post called “magical” when the technology debuted for visitors to the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Finding Musical Inspiration in Houghton County History

Meyer said it was easy to be enthusiastic about composing for the site that was central to America’s copper mining efforts from 1846 to 1945.

“I was inspired by the people who worked at the mine and whose families were raised and supported by this challenging and often dangerous work,” she said. “I tried to imagine the trail when the buildings were new and in use and hear the voices and songs of the people who worked there.”

Photo of Libby Meyer
Libby Meyer

Meyer said she also enjoyed working on a blended medium: “I was definitely excited to work on a project that blended art, technology and, in this case, history. The idea that we can bring these spaces alive and allow people to experience them in new ways through music and technology is really inspiring.”

Meckler said he worked to evoke the feeling of open space for the expansive Waterfront Trail, which runs for four and a half miles from the Waterfront Recreation Area to Nara Nature Park.

“This manifested in my writing for a large ensemble and layering many parts on top of each other,” he said. “My kids play at (local climbing feature) Chutes and Ladders, and at the skate park. I associate these places with fun, energy, light and hope. I try to capture that in the music.”

He hopes many will be able to enjoy the immersive experience. 

“Some tech creates problems for artists to solve, and some tech enhances the human artistic experience. I believe this project is the latter, and I’m excited to be a part of it,” he said.

Jennings said after hearing of the app, she knew the beauty of the Keweenaw Peninsula would be a great tableau to score. 

“We know that few are interested in indoor programming during the summer, especially in the pandemic,” Jennings said. “So, we’re proud to bring the quality of our programming to where people want to be: outside.”

Early Riser? Expect a Novel Listening Experience

The music isn’t necessarily the same each time, either. Both composers included so-called Easter eggs, such as music that will only be heard on a specific spot during sunrise.

Photo of the LISTEN app landing screen
The LISTEN at Michigan Tech app is available now for iPhone and Android devices.

The concept was originally developed by Washington, D.C., brothers Hays and Ryan Holladay, who have been hailed as interactive music pioneers. Their first project wove music through the spaces of the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Jennings said more content is already in the works, including a walk on the MTU campus from the clock tower to the Rozsa Center. “If everything goes well, we’ll launch that by Sept. 6.”

The app will be free to download and use. The Waterfront Trail is free, though there may be a fee to access other sites.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.