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The Seattle Sketcher

An illustrated journal of life in the Puget Sound region by Times artist Gabriel Campanario.

May 13, 2011 at 10:39 PM

Our DJ for fountain play

Sketched May 10, 2:47 p.m. [Click to enlarge]
Meet Seattle Center’s own private DJ.
Capitol Hill musician James Whetzel has been selecting and mixing music for the International Fountain since 2000.
Whetzel said he’s done it for so long he doesn’t remember how many playlists he has burned. “A thousand maybe.”
Sketched May 10, 10:55 a.m.
Every week, he hands off a different CD to Bill Droege (below), the Center’s sound chief, who walks through a long underground tunnel to plug it into the sound system located amid giant water pipes about 45 feet below the fountain.
Sketched May 10, 11:32 a.m.
But that’s the easy part of making the music play. Whetzel, 30, spends hours to create timely mixes that combine good mood, diversity of styles and local artists. In the looping mix this week: Arabic pop reggae by Sabreen; Caribbean steel-drum music by the Toucans, a local band; and cinematic pop by DeVotchKa.
Whetzel said the fountain has become a gathering space, and the music has a lot to do with that. “The music is the soul … the color of the fountain.”
Web Extra!
Whetzel created this mix for Festál. It’s one of ten water-choreographed performances coming on when the big water jets go off every half hour. His and other nine 7-minute “big shows,” as Whetzel called them, were programmed by a Las Vegas-based company called Wet Design. Whetzel said it’s very expensive to program the water to follow the music, that’s why only one customized “big show” has been created so far. Here it is:
James Whetzel’s Seattle Center Festál International Fountain Big Show Mix (2006) by JamesWhetzel
And here are links to some of the tracks from Whetzel’s mix playing at the fountain this week. Whetzel’s playlists play on an infinite loop except during the “big shows.” (Full list of artists on his blog.)
“We’re Gonna Make It” by Devotchka and Myckael Danna from the soundtrack of “Little Miss Sunshine.”
“Mambuloo” by Mo’ Horizons, a Latin jazz and funky band from Hanover, Germany.
“Chinook” by Loscil, an ambient electronic artist from Vancouver, BC.
“Nawari, (The Gypsy) Instrumental” by Sabreen, a Palestinian group from Jerusalem.
“Grasshopper (fest. Erik Sumo)” by Easy Life Natural, a Nu Jazz group from Veszprem, Hungary.
“Martin Rochford’s/Green Gowned Lass” by Martin Hayes & Dennis Cahill (from the album “Live in Seattle”).
“Can’t Help This Feeling (Instrumental)” by The Herbaliser.
Whetzel’s music talent goes beyond his responsibilities as Seattle Center’s musicologist. He sings West African and Indian folk music and plays a fretless lute called sarod –that’s why he keeps his fingernails so long, he said. You can learn more about his music on iTunes and SoundCloud.
Coming up
One week every month, I take my sketchbook to a different community following suggestions from readers. Where should I go next? Send me your ideas via e-mail, Facebook or Twitter. Have a great weekend!

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