Cameron Riggs hears color in music. When he sits down to compose on the piano, this ability is just as distracting as it is useful.
“I have synesthesia, so when I hear music, I have colors associated with it,” said Riggs, jazz performance freshman. “I can also look at a picture and take the colors and put them into music.”
Riggs said his condition is distracting in his major but helped him adapt a Blanton Museum photograph for a musical piece in the Midday Music series, where musicians interpret photos into music. The event is in the museum atrium at noon Tuesday and is free to students and faculty.
A nine-person ensemble from the Butler School of Music will each play their own jazz interpretation of photographs in the museum’s exhibit, “The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip.”
“The premise of the exhibition is to investigate how photographers have responded to the American road trip,” said Adam Bennett, manager of public programs at the Blanton.
The exhibit is a collection of photos from the past 80 years of the U.S. highway network and stops along the way, although it features artists from all over the world. Photographs show hints of American class division and economic inequality but are open to interpretation from the ensemble, Bennett said.
“The musicians might find some of those things or completely different things,” Bennett said.
The museum regularly collaborates with UT for live performances and hosts Midday Music events seven times a year, Bennett said. At the beginning of the semester, Bennett brought a catalogue of photographs from the exhibit to the jazz department.
Professors encouraged students to use inspiration from the catalogue to write their own pieces, leaving ample room for improvisation.
“It’s going to be a contrasting repertoire,” said graduate teaching assistant Alan Retamozo, who helped organize the event and wrote a piece for it.
The ensemble specializes in more nontraditional and contemporary methods, Retamozo said.
“It’s mostly just based around improvisation,” said Riggs. “I’ve been into music my entire life, so it’s cool to be able to do something in the museum that I like to do. Improvising is a lot more fun than playing someone else’s music.”