By Annie Corrigan

It’s been two days since I saw Susan Alcorn and Amy Brandon perform at D.F. Cook Recital Hall. The music was still in my bones, but I had no words to describe it. That’s not exactly right. I had a whole slew of words, but none of them did the performance justice. The music was unsettling, but that wasn’t a bad thing. It was anxiety-inducing at times, but a full-body reaction to music is usually the sign of something worth hearing. Amy Brandon played a standard guitar with, what was that, a scrub brush? And suddenly she transported us to an icy, barren, electro-alien planet.

It was strange. It was incomprehensible. It was so completely and utterly brand new to my ears.

I came in with an expectation of what a pedal steel guitar sounds like, but I realized very quickly that Susan Alcorn was not going to give me those sounds. There were moments of tonality, but they were fleeting. The crescendos were terrifying, truly terrifying. At a moment of “What on earth is she doing now,” she placed three items on the strings and manipulated them somehow, who knows how, to create the most otherworldly sounds of them all. I sat up in my chair, eyes wide. At that moment, the pedal steel guitar became a sentient being. I kept thinking of the word magic, but that wasn’t right. This was alien.

By happy coincidence, I ran into Susan today. This was my chance to try to put the pieces together. If I could understand just one aspect of how she made those sounds, I could grab some control over my experience.

Those three items she placed on the strings? Slate rocks she found near her former home in Baltimore. She “played” the rocks by tracing the edges with a screwdriver. There was also a finger cymbal that, when struck, vibrated the strings for a good long time. Then we talked about whales and Canadian versus U.S. cell phone plans and whether or not she’ll join a Night Music improv during the Symposium.

Suddenly everything made sense.

Although, I’m having a tinge of regret. I wish I could have just lived in that alien world and enjoyed it for what it was, no explanations necessary.

Annie Corrigan is the Marketing and Social Media Manager for Sound Symposium. Before moving to St. John’s in 2017, she worked as a journalist and radio producer at WFIU in Bloomington, Indiana. She’s currently finishing her doctoral studies in oboe from Indiana University.