Hunting and gathering on the Farm – sounds and images, that is

During the first-ever Sonic Scavenger Hunt held during Stanford's New Student Orientation, frosh and transfer students used the sound-app MadPad to collect sounds and images around campus.

Steve Fyffe

The project was designed, in part, to help new students learn their way around campus.

Last Friday afternoon, eight Stanford University freshmen from Larkin Hall trooped into the quiet-as-a-hush Lane Reading Room in Green Library on a quest – to find a book and slam it shut.

It was one of a dozen sound samples – and visual images – they had been instructed to collect around campus and record into MadPad, a mobile music app, during the first "Sonic Scavenger Hunt" held during New Student Orientation.

In the library, Brandon Camhi, of Oak Park, Calif., selected Un Sogno di Libertá: Napoli nel declino di un impero, 1585-1648, by Rosario Villari, to slam shut – carefully, of course. After a couple tries, he closed its stark white pages with a sharp, crisp report.

Jenni Allison, of San Diego, used an iPad to record the slam for posterity – or at least a future dorm jam session.

The frosh had already visited the front steps of Hoover Tower, where they crowded together like a barbershop octet and recorded a very long, drawn-out "wow." They had huddled on the ledge of Tanner Fountain to capture the sounds and sights of water – carefully, of course, so as not to get the iPad wet. They had sighed in commiseration with Auguste Rodin's mournful The Burghers of Calais in Memorial Court.

With MadPad, one of three iPhone apps they had been given access to over the summer as part of the Three Books program, they could record sound samples from everyday life and then remix them into songs.

On their way to Memorial Church to perform a solemn "om," they crossed paths with another group of freshman scavenger hunters from Larkin.

Keenon Werling, of Minneapolis, was holding a slender silver iPad aloft and shouting directions like a Hollywood director.

"All right, let's hear some laughs," he said to a group of freshmen standing near the East Gate entrance to the Main Quad.

They laughed.

"That was the most depressing, ironic laughter I've ever heard," he said.

By the time the two Larkin groups had sauntered to the front of Memorial Church, the Main Quad was filled with gaggles of new students from the east and west sides of campus, all facing iPad screens and saying "om."

"How many sounds have you got?" one student called out to a friend in the distance.

The friend held up his fingers – seven.

"Oh, we've only got four," the first student replied.

"We're already halfway done," someone from another group of freshmen called out.

The two-hour scavenger hunt was a time to get to know the campus.

"Oh, that's really cool, I'm glad we came this way," said Dan Spaeth of Minneapolis, as he and his Larkin dorm mates walked into the Rodin Sculpture Garden at the Cantor Arts Center. Their destination: the Gates of Hell. Their assignment: scream.

The long walk was a time to get to know each other. The interludes between hunting and gathering – and performing – were marked by quiet conversation.

It also gave some students the chance to run into new friends.

A group of freshmen from Florence Moore Hall snagged Larkin resident Victoria Zuo, of Nanjing, China, as she descended the wide gray staircase at Green Library. Zuo, who knew one of them from International Student Orientation, took their picture with the iPad as they draped themselves carelessly on the steps.

There was only one "required vocalization" on the list: President John Hennessy saying "SIXTEEN!" (as in the Class of 2016) at the President's Reception at Hoover House.

Part of Three Books program

Last summer, Stanford sent new students a book, a DVD and access to three iPhone apps. They received Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural Nörth Daköta by Chuck Klosterman and the 2007 film My Kid Could Paint That.

In addition to MadPad, they were given access to Ocarina, which turns the iPhone into a virtual clay flute, and I Am T-Pain, which prompts users to sing, karaoke-style, into the phone and simultaneously auto-tunes their voices in the style of singer T-Pain. Students didn't need to own an iPhone or buy the apps. Video clips and music samples demonstrating how the apps worked were available on a website set up for the incoming students.

When Mark Applebaum, an associate professor of music, chose the three apps as part of the Three Books program, he said he wanted students to consider the differences and similarities between the apps and traditional instruments.

He also wanted students to consider the role of technology in the arts, whether phone apps are really more accessible than classical instruments, and what kind of music is most deserving of a performance venue like Bing Concert Hall.