Musical Intersection: Experience Music in a New way at the Otterbox Digital Dome

PHOTO BY BEN GONDREZ. Flutist Kaoru Watanabe at the Shinrin Yoku ("forest bathing") Journey at the Otterbox Dome in the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery.

By Devin Odell

A crucial part of Northern Colorado’s music scene is the wide array of excellent venues available for live performances. From the Mishawaka on the banks of the Poudre River to the revamped Lincoln Center, from The Armory and Washington’s with their exquisite sound to the Rialto Theater with its historic charm (not to mention many others!), we are lucky to have spaces that not only host but enhance the very best in live music. 

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One of the most interesting of these music venues, to my mind, is the Otterbox  Digital Dome Theater at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery. I recently got a chance to sit down with Ben Gondrez, the manager of the Dome, to talk with him about its music program. 

Gondrez, 34, started working with the museum while still a student at Colorado State University getting his degree in computer information systems at the business school. After touring the museum, then still under construction, he volunteered to work on its website. But as a “creative technologist,” that is, somebody who wants to “find ways to utilize technology to solve creative problems,” as he puts it, and a person committed to educating young people about technology, it wasn’t long before he got pulled into the realm of the Dome. 

Since the Dome opened, in November, 2012, he has served as its caretaker. Soon, he was learning about the artists around the world who are using domes to add new dimensions to their work, or even as inspiration for new kinds of work. “That’s when I started to have a passion to bring this to Fort Collins,” he says. 

The Dome, although large and impressive, is smaller than the enormous planetariums in large cities that many of us grew up with. It seats 80 people and its 360 degree screen is 39 feet in diameter. But because the screen completely surrounds the viewer and expands in all directions, it can feel to the viewer, leaning back in a comfortable chair, as large as the night sky, which is to say, as large as the universe.  

And, from the perspective of live music, this more intimate size is ideal for allowing people “to feel right there with the performers,” Gondrez says. The Dome boasts the same kind of top-notch sound system used in larger theaters and has good acoustics if performers don’t want to use amplification. 

One upcoming event, part of Off the Hook Arts Winterfest, specifically designed to make use of the Dome’s capacities is the “Metta Musical Journey” on February 4, 2020 at 7 p.m. Michael Kimball, a professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Northern Colorado and a meditation teacher, will lead the audience in a version of metta meditation, accompanied by music from guitarist Jeff LaQuatra and visual images put together by Gondrez. 

Metta meditation, according to Kimball, is traditionally designed to “soften the boundaries of the self” and allow practitioners to “extend compassion to others.” To do this, the practice moves out from the self in concentric circles to those we are close to, to those we are acquainted with, to neutral people, and finally to difficult people, and even to people–yes, even those people!–we feel deeply negative about 

Kimball plans to take a similar idea, but instead of leading the group through concentric circles of the people in our lives, he plans to move from a focus on our immediate selves and surroundings out to include our city, our state, our country and, finally, our whole world. Gondrez’s high resolution images will match this journey, starting locally in Old Town Square and expanding from there.

To make the experience complete and tie it into the theme of Winterfest, “The Power of Music: Beethoven, Transcendence, Healing,” Kimball will give a short talk beforehand discussing the neuroscientific aspects of metta meditation. 

Also in February, the Dome will host an evening of experimental music and multi-media art with “The Space Program” from the Playground Ensemble, a new music chamber group out of Denver. This show will feature an amazing program of audio and video, including new compositions, looking at the impact of space exploration on contemporary composers. 

Conrad Kehn, the executive director of the group, calls Gondrez the “ultimate partner,” enthusing over his flexibility and eagerness to experiment with this special space.  

“Night of the Four Moons,” by George Crumb combines flute, cello, banjo, percussion and voice with the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca to consider the meaning of the moon landing. Another piece, with the evocative title “Lost Signals and Drifting Satellites,” by Annie Gosfield features electronic sounds collected from satellites, static and machines and solo violin. 

Kehn’s own piece, “Through Hardships We Become Stars,” draws from the  “Golden Record,” a phonograph record placed on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977 containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life on Earth, among other sources. Among the visuals accompanying the piece will be drawings from  Johannes Kepler’s “Harmonices Mundi,” or “Harmony of the World,” published in 1619. 

Other pieces include “(Un)quiet Sun,” by Nathan Hall, which will use audio and NASA footage to explore the patterns of the sun, and “Collision,” by Monica Bolles, in which she translates data into sound, using violin, cello and electronics, to portray the what happens when two black holes collide.

For those looking for a less-structured (and free) way to experience the visual and audio capacity of the Dome, as well as its potential healing effects, there are “Tune-Out Tuesdays” once a month, with a short astronomy presentation followed by soothing music and views of the cosmos. The next one is on February 18, 2020 from 12 to 1 p.m.

Tickets for the Metta Musical Journey and The Space Program are available through the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery. 

 

Devin Odell is a retired judge who lives with his family in Old Town Fort Collins. Off the Hook Arts is a Fort Collins non-profit that provides low-cost music performance education for students while cultivating a love of the performing arts through public concerts and special events.