Thursday, November 11, 2010

Songpath Remixed

Songpath is not done!

Join me, fellow songpath veteran Chris Chelgren, and my old friends Kent Henriksen and John Schjolberg for Songpath Remixed. An evening of improvisations, manipulations, video scores, and sounds taken from the Songpath. A little feeling of summer and sun in the dead chill of the Minnesota winter.

Thursday January 27th
Bryant-Lake Bowl
810 W Lake St. Minneapolis
Doors 9:30 PM, show at 10 PM
$10 at door $8 in advance

For advanced tickets go to the BLB website

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Song Path The Poem

On the 18th of July, I organized a kind of preview hike for the song path which was joined by MPR's Marc Sanchez as well as other friends of mine, my wife, and Poet James Armstrong from Winona MN. James is a fellow member of the international society of acoustic ecology and he contributed a poem in response to the hike which I thought was quite nice.

--For Ryan Ingebritsen

So that was the summer
I stood on the park’s idea
of a minimalist bridge--
seven slabs in the river--
and listened to wet syllables
in an aria of falling and going around--
lyrics of riffle, inflected with watercress
punctuated by striders.

The song was repetitive, mostly about longing
for dissolution. There was a distant lover
in some estuary; she smelled of mud and salt.
To get to her, the singer ran headlong
into the earth--scouring and scouring
fat volumes of limestone
until at last he looked up
at the brows of cliffs--
he had dug an amphitheater
on every curve, his bright voice
rang to a shadow audience.
Under green drops, he deployed
an orchestra of birds.

That was the summer I climbed 500 steps
to the top of the bluff,
past cedar and sumac,
leaned over the fragrant balcony

and added my voice to the evening—
my echo returned, sounding like someone
lost and concerned, far off, perhaps a bit panicked--
the tone the voice finds in distance.

-- James Armstrong

Thanks James!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Whitewter, Sunday September 12th. 1:00The last hike

Thought there were a few people signed up for this hike, after waiting about 15 minutes for stragglers we left with only one couple from Wisconsin though they were originally from Germany and immigrated to the US in 1967 via Canada. They had lived in Wisconsin for about 20 years and had more recently moved to Minnesota and were camping. They were a bit older, (72 and 74) so I suggested a hike where we just stayed in the valley. They wouldn't hear of it! So up we went.

First off, this hike was another one where the wind was kind of still and the birds were also a bit more quiet at first. So we focused quite a bit on the water. These immediately got everything I was pointing out in the meditation and were totally in the moment pretty much the whole time as far as I could tell. We took many long stops, probably as much because I was starting to already fell nostalgic about the place as the fact that they seemed to really hear every detail, even in the quieter moments. The second foot bridge was especially impressive this day because the water level had risen enough to make the rumblings of the rapids loud enough to resonate off the cliff walls in this small space. A really nice and new feature that I didn't so much notice the day before because it seemed there was always a lot of human activity here.

As we approached the second larger bridge, the wind began to kick up a bit and though it was very subtle, the lack of other sounds at that moment made the rustling through the trees and subsequent falling of leaves quite dramatic. We pressed on to the mysterious valley after standing on and crossing the bridge briefly and followed a couple of younger girls who made lots of noise so we could hear how their sound changed up ahead in the valley. They quickly got out of ear shot and we then stood in the valley where I was waiting for the wind to kick up again but instead was surprised by the sudden burst of bird sounds that emerged as we stood and waited. I think we sat here for about 7 minutes just listening to the textures change. Finally, a woodpecker started to peck quite quickly, not like the pecking we had heard before where they were getting in at the bugs, but a high pitched and rapid pecking that woodpeckers apparently use to warn each other of coming threats. After each iteration of this pecking, the rest of the birds really perked up and started their chatter with more intensity. Finally, the woodpecker stopped and we started a higher tempo trip back. I stopped earlier than usual to hear the sound of the drum resonating around the valley and were rewarded by an especially quiet moment where it could be heard almost from the mysterious meadow (usually it becomes audible after the first large bridge).

Then the stairs. As we rounded each corner, we had to take a short break which allowed us to really hear the way the drum sounded. As we got to the top, there where quite a few people up on inspiration point so in a way, this hike was more like 10 people for the finale. My drum, as I had mentioned, was going south, but I thought I could get one last show out of it. Though the head was nearly completely caved in, I continued to hit it thinking that it would still make a good sound but after the hike, Martin (the husband) noted that my "friends drum sounded so big and huge as did your voice and his but the drum you played sounded like.......a tin can!!"

I guess I should have taken him out of commission after the previous hike but I think the drum enjoyed being used one last time before going into the museum. Anyway, he looks much cooler now!

Second Night Hike

The second night, we set out again in the evening, this time on purpose and with flashlights. The results were similar though. A very long and eventful hike with lots of getting lost.

These night hikes really reminded me of our days as roommates at St. Olaf College where we would just kind of strike out into the woods at night on brightly moonlit evenings when our homework assignments seemed to overwhelm us. This was a near nightly occurrence of course and I would say that it made me realize that I had been working on song path much longer than I had thought. It probably goes all then way back to these night hikses or even before. In any case, I am glad Chris was here for the ending weekend as it gave me one more chance to reflect and explore where all these ideas came from. I also would have never tried these night hikes myself.

We started by setting out down the meadow trail with the goal of eventually crossing the whitewater on the stone slab bridge and heading up to the valley trail and do the valley loop. The meadow itself was rich with wildlife, both plant and animal, and very noisy. Basically a wall of sound in places with the constant din of the river to our right which was extremely directional as in this trail there is a sheer cliff next to the river and an open meadow on the other side. A great sonic combination.

As we rounded a corner on the trail headed away from the river a bit, we heard noises in the meadow which definitely freaked us out for a moment but then we realized that a herd of dear were passing by and were startled by our presence with bright flashlights. We shined these lights in the direction of the noise and could see at least 8, maybe 10 pairs of eyes staring at us like............deer in the headlights?? We clapped and made some noise and then turned and leaped away as we watched a flurry of white tails passing in and out of the torchlight.

Then our troubles began, a bridge with many trail heads on either side of us thoroughly confused us so we just took the one that seemed to make the most sense. This led to the group camp which was occupied by a large group of high school kids and the trail led straight through their camp where they were having a big bonfire gathering so we decided not to mess with it and turned and took the other loop around the group camp. This trail also went through the campsite but behind the cabins so we hiked quietly by as if we were two fugitives running from the US marshals (bad joke I guess) and then headed up and across the stone bridge to the valley loop. Again, there was some question as to where we should go but as this intersected the dakota trail that I had hiked a few days before I was able to discern at least the way NOT to go and we arrived at the loop. Unfortunately, the trail became very narrow here and plant growth basically covered the entire trail so it was difficult to make out if we were going the right way. We turned back but again spent a good deal of time crossing the stone stepping bridge and listening to the sounds around us.

Finally we arrived back at the meadow trail deciding it best to take the same trail back so as to not end up getting lost again. We were rewarded by a bench overlooking the river where we sat a minute and listened to the sounds of crickets, frogs, and other wildlife droning behind us and two separate water features to the left and right of us resonating against the cliff walls by the river. It was a really nice ending to the hike. We made it back to the campsite and had a well deserved glass of wine and cigar each and then fell into our tents exhausted after about 3 hours of hiking on top of 3 day hikes!!! I am getting skinny.

Whitewater, September 11th 4:00 PM

Though I had one hiker signed up after a large cancellation, a couple emerged and a stray camper from redwing who was just hanging out in the south picnic area decided to join us as well for a nice evening hike. I was made aware on the way in that one of the hikers was extremely fond of the wind, especially in the fall trees. That made me realize that I had some discerning hikers along with me so I hoped the wind kicked up a bit as it was pretty still in the beginning.

During the meditation there were quite a few groups of hikers that passed us and the hike was a bit more active with the noise of other hikers and their dogs than usual but it didn't seem to detract much from the experience. Though the wind was a bit more still, it allowed us for a time to focus more on the water features and really hit areas where you could hear multiple rapids very clearly as they interacted with one another and the birds helped to give regular punctuations framing the micro-rhythms of the creek. Then as we reached the mysterious valley, we were given a full performance by a sole bird in the distance, crickets, and a suddenly very active but slow rolling wind. It was especially nice to hear the wind roll through the bluffs above and move all around us before sweeping into the valley itself.

As we returned, we began to hear the sweeping of the drum around the valley much earlier than usual, probably due to the stillness of the valley at the time and of course, we heard the birds starting to wake in response.

My drum up top is now beginning to go south as a bit too much rain got in on friday evening and soaked the lining that holds the head on. The "School Drum" as I call it, is a great old metal frame drum which is incredibly light and has served me well but I think it is destined to become a display drum only. Sad but it had a good life.

Whitewater September 11th 1:00 PM

Another quiet afternoon hike, this time with a family of three including young Heidi who was very curious about water and very interested in frogs.

During the mediation, I pointed out a banging noise in the distance which sounded faintly like my drums. I though that maybe Chris was getting ready and doing some practicing. As we hiked along, we ran into a family that was taking pictures near a bridge who asked, "are those your drums back there??"""


"I was playing them a little bit!......."

Anyways, we spent lots of time with the initial water features and Heidi found some rocks near the banks of the stream and started to throw them in. This is precisely one of the activities that led me to this point with the song path. I often just hung out near streams throwing rocks in and listening to how they sounded differently. Like I said, everyone hears something different. She heard the possibility of rocks going into the water and made it happen.

She also played a reed for a while which I really liked as you could hear the valley resonate when she would hit a high note. As we ascended to inspiration point, I could hear that there was a big group of high school kids gathered. Heidi and her dad went up and her mother listened further down the stairs. I stayed on the cliff face and played the drum for the whole group of them. I didn't hear birds reacting this time from where I was, but the father assured me that they did. I think that is the feature of this hike I like most and the one I don't really ever get to hear!

Saturday, September 11th 2010, 10:00 am

A single couple accompanied me on this one.

A great day for a hike with light winds and lots of bird activity. Even from the day before, I could hear a difference in the leaves. I forgot my walkie talkie this time so ran back during the meditation to grab it and was amazed to return to find the two hikers still standing with eyes closed listening. They were both very intense listeners and this time, my friend Chris who is our drummer for the weekend, was already waiting by his drum as we hiked out which I think even distracted them a bit. Each corner we rounded seemed to have its own bird dominating the landscape this hike. Crows at first, in pairs, then other birds I can't identify but it seemed there were always pairs in different locations calling to one another. This made the character of each valley quite apparent as the distances allowed for echoes to resonate throughout. Once we reached the turn around point, it seemed that one of each of these birds had followed us and was presenting kind of a mixture of all the regular calls we had heard creating a long and slow poly-rhythm that I think the whole group noticed. A prop plane then flew by in the distance (this had also flown straight overhead earlier as we were stopped listening to bird and water sounds) as wind picked up and left a trail of falling leaves behind it.

A family of four hiking near us often became audible in the distance and a little girls voice really filled out certain parts of the valley nicely. Then the drum, in the usual place, became very audible around the valley.

We took our time climbing the stairs, but once we arrived there was a nice resonance carried by the wind. After the drums stopped, I was told by the couple that a hawk flew by, cawed a few times, and then dove straight into the valley. I was afraid it had gotten Chris. Quite a prize for a hawk.

Night Hike 1

Upon the arrival of my friend and colleague Chris Chelgren, we decided to quickly setup camp and then head out on an evening hike to hear some of the night sounds. As we thought we had plenty of time before dark (he arrived at 6) we decided to take the chimney rock loop up to inspiration point and then back down the stairs to Trout Run Creek so I could show him what he needed to do with the drums and such. It began to rain a little, but we just got into some rain gear and decided to trek on. Oh, and no flashlights. Very bright.

First we hit Chimney rock and explored the small rocky caves inside of it which looked out through small openings over the valley itself. Then we trudged down Chimney Rock Trail which was much longer than I remembered it and the rain had made certain parts of it quite treacherous, especially since we were without proper light and many parts of the valley had become quite dark.

The crickets that inhabited the corn field overlooking the bluff still seemed to be quiet despite it being night time but after we rounded a corner about two thirds of the way through we were blasted with cricket noise from the left side of the trail even above the sound of wind and rain that was accumulating in the valley.

Finally, just before the whole park went completely black, we hit inspiration point and after carefully scaling the rocks out to the cliff edge I showed Chris the sound of the valley and taught him the calls he would need to do from below to activate its sound. It was really an amazing moment as we could not even clearly make out the exact shape of the valley from the point but could hear all the echoes and reverberations, even above the rain which had died down a bit by this point.

We then scaled carefully down the stairs to Trout Run Creek Trail and then headed up the drive to the nature center by star light. We had to use the light from a cell phone to make it back to our campsite where we feasted on sausages and chips and organic salsa. Roughing it!

Friday September 10th 1:00 PM

This hike was for a group of American Composers Forum Staffers who had taken some time out of their day of deadlines and heavy work to join me on the path. Among them was Craig Carnahan who is in direct charge of administering the McKnight foundation grant. It was great to finally get to share the work with them directly.

The hike started very quietly. As we hiked out, the sound of the lower water level, still trees, and sleeping birds made each sound more important. We focused mostly on water features, but I was able to listen very carefully for sounds off in the distance. This made each stop a bit more intimate and totally changed the character and pace of the hike. It was probably the quietest hike I can remember but the stillness near us stripped away layers and made the hike more about the various dronings of wind, bugs, and water that changed slowly over time.

As we returned from the turn around point at the mysterious valley, we listened closely for the drum which were in this case being manned by a couple of park staffers, Brent, the park manager, and Sarah. In one quick lesson they seemed to pick up what they needed to do immediately and even hit the drum like pro's.

As we neared the stairs to inspiration point, each drum hit seemed to wake up more and more birds which created a nice crescendo of echoing bird noises after each event. By the time we approached inspiration point itself, the valley was teeming with crows, eagles, and other small birds calling out in direct response to each hit. When the drums all finally stopped, we were left with a valley full of noise which I will not soon forget considering their silence as we walked out.

Despite us listening a bit longer to the sounds we heard, the group got out in time to return to work in St. Paul and finish out their day. A dedicated group!

Friday September 10th 10:00 AM

A noisy hike!

This hike was a musicianless one as my volunteer for the weekend Chris works during the day. Luckily, the first hike was a duo that did not relish going up the stairs so we stuck to the trout run creek trail as well heading all the way to the loop at the end.

Right off the bat I noticed how in just 3 short days the leaves had turned enough to change the overall character of the wind from a light thrush to a very high pitched hiss with an after effect of leaves falling from the trees and hitting the ground. The whole week long fall season has started here in Minnesota and the wind was very active so this element became a constant din in our ears and really filled out many of the large valleys nicely. You can also hear the more distant leaves on the bluffs much more clearly.

After several very nice moments where birds and water seemed to chatter in rhythm, we reached the loop at the end. A comment that Dave Palmquist had made in an earlier hike came to mind as the colors of the stream seemed more vibrant than before and we could see clear to the bottom as a school of trout hovered near the bottom of a calm pool.

On the way back we heard a solitary woodpecker and several passing prop airplanes passing overhead helped to fill the valley. We ended by listening to a cacophony of birds near the steps to inspiration point. When they stopped, so did we.

One of the two hikers was a park staffer who pointed out all the places where the flood of 2007 had changed to course of the creek and the river as well as left rock bed exposed in places it had not been before. I have that to thank for some of the really interesting sonic features in the park. I guess some good comes out of every disaster.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Whitewater, LABOR DAY, Moday September 6th 10:00 AM

We only offered one hike this day and I was glad for the insistence of the park staff on this issue. I was wanting to offer 3, but by the morning of this one hike, my legs a and my brain were ready for a break. It was slightly better weather as the previous day had been nice and warm and despite the threat of rain, the 10:00 went off without a hitch.

A family of 5 came out for this one with two older girls and a 10 month old boy named Shawn. The father was a writer for the local paper in St. Charles MN who had actually come at the behest (or command, I can't quite tell) of a local Coffee Shop owner/ Music Therapist/ Gift Shop Owner/ Music impresario in town Laura. She was the one who had earlier marched me down to the head offices for the news paper two doors away and introduced me to everyone in town in about 30 minutes. I had a few hikers who had come at her recommendation and more that knew about it but were a bit put off by the 500 steps up to inspiration point. From what I had heard everyone knew about it, but now the press was here to make it official. In any case, it was a really pleasant hike and I had the pleasure of watching two young girls go from being charmingly indignant about having to hike quietly for an hour to being gleefully enthusiastic when they realized there were drums scattered throughout the valley.

This hike was really dominated by a murder of crows that seemed to be following us around. Perhaps they sensed how tired my legs were. In any case, they provided a constant iteration of stereophonic rhythmic sound which rang out overhead and really made special emphasis of my point about how the valleys changed as we walked. In fact, the whole valley was really active probably due to a warm night and then a slightly wet morning. The birds liked the warm night, and the bugs were enjoying the mist of a cooler morning which kind of felt like sundown at times. I also think the approaching rain storm might have had something to do with their extremely thick presence. I got the two little girls to engage in a little game at each of the bridges in which we leaned back and forth on the bridge to listen to the sound of each side and then had them tell me what they heard on each side. I could see them struggling for words to describe the sounds which eventually just came out as "that side is louder and that side is like a little water over there" but it was amazing to watch the expressions on their faces which told a richer story about what they were hearing without perhaps having the words to describe it. I also lack the words but my over education sometimes makes me believe I can explain it IN words. I think the expressions on the faces were much more accurate.

Despite my original notion that I would turn back at the second large bridge, I decided that since the girls had managed to remain silent for such a long time, I would push a bit further and hit a bit of the mysterious valley which was a great moment as there were so many different insects droning from so many places that I was able to point out and get the two of them to hear how the entire valley sounded from the bugs mixed with the activity of the many birds that were letting out short and sparse regular chirps from all over the valley. A really beautiful moment that we stood silently and enjoyed for an indeterminate amount of time and the parents seemed to get a bit of a rest.

As we turned back and started to hear the drums, the kids started to get excited and a bit scared as at first they could not distinguish the sound from thunder or distant gun shots. One of them thought it was a bear! The younger one heard it first and then slowly, as they realized it was a drum and then started to hear more sounds coming from other parts of the park, I saw a big smile emerge on one of their faces. Then as we climbed the stairs, my sister Jennifer let out a big BOOM on the drum at just the right moment which allowed them to clearly hear how the valley changed as we rounded the corner to inspiration point.

They eventually made it all the way up though we stopped quite a bit to listen and rest. The park was relatively empty so the drum performance really rang out by itself but we were accompanied by the sound of birds getting more and more excited.

This hike has really made me more aware of just how easily animals and birds are disturbed by the presence of humans. Not just by the sound of large drums which they seem to respond to, but also to just our presence walking through a space. I think my hiker from the day before was really right about them trying to identify us and realizing that we are not a part of the woods. They stop when we stop or sometimes only call out when we stop. A hunter knows how quiet you have to be to not let animals know you are there and how the slightest disturbance can scare them off or give a warning to other animals over long distances. I think that this activity, along with the activities of naturalists who track animals to study or help them, might be the only experience other than hunting that raises this awareness. Ryan Ingebritsen, composer of "The Trash Hunter", finally has something in common with hunters. We all have something to learn from one another. Perhaps we should just start listening.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Whitewater Sunday September 5th, 4:00

My first 4:00 hike at whitewater. I have been looking forward to a 4:00 group as the sounds later in the day are much different than in the morning and afternoon. I learned a lot this hike as I had a single couple from Michigan, the husband was a hunter who was really good at identifying bird and animal sounds. Since it was just the three of us I opened it up to talking but they for the most part remained silent. We talked a bit though about various native hunting techniques which he had explored and I told him about my grandfather who was part native american and he revealed he was from the same part of Missouri where I was born in the bootheel and it kind of just went from there. The wife was really obsessed with water sounds so we did some deep and close listening to each of the water features along the path and I didn't have to do much convincing to have her hear it as music. The husband kept talking about how animals make noise to get you to move when you walk by so they can identify you. They realize very quickly that humans are not a part of the forest usually and get a bit upset when they walk by. We heard a sound I had been hearing all weekend but couldn't identify and he pointed out that it was a wild turkey and also pointed out that turkeys can in fact fly.

Very informative.

We stopped just before the second bridge and two hawks started calling to one another from various parts of the valley and flew around very rapidly creating a beautiful duet which filled the three dimensional sonic landscape with sounds and echoes at a very rapid pace while creating a sort of rhythm of its own.

We could also hear a rifle being fired in the distance at rapid intervals. The immediately identified what it was, and it made me think about weather hunting season was here now or if this was perhaps a rifle range. It was really fast. We hiked back and I quite gleefully pushed the go button for the drums in the midst of some rifle fire. It blended quite nicely but really took the two off guard. I kept the source a secret as long as I could until finally we rounded a corner and the husband said "is that your friends?". Busted.

We kept hiking and decided that we would only go half way up the stairs as their knees were a bit worse for the wear. I found a great spot where all three drums still seemed distant and left them there to finish the hike. The quiet of the valley allowed us to really hear how the birds reacted to our drumming. Every time I made a caw or hit the drum, a couple of hawks responded with multiple caws and after we were done we could hear a very busy bird cacophony throughout the valley. The 5 or 10 minutes of "silence" at the end were especially poignant..

Whitewater, Sunday September 2010, 1:00 PM

This hike was a bit more chaotic than the usual. Lots of folks on the trails and a few mishaps. But also, some pretty intense moments. the meditation included another on cue airplane which I SWEAR I did not know was coming. I guess there just is a rhythm to the planes and I am getting in touch with it?????

Most notably for me was a moment near the first stepping bridge where I noticed the water near us and water down the path mixing in a very interesting poly rhythm as well as the water features near the second small bridge where the water level has reached a place in which a very high pitched sound has begun to emerge. At this time, my cell phone went off despite me telling everyone to turn their cell phones off and the fact that you can get no cell phone in the entire park. Guess you can get reception after all. Good to know. It was also at this time I noticed that I had forgotten my walkie talkie!

If I hadn't mentioned this before, I use these cheap two way radios I bought at radio shack to cue the first drummer. I actually had to rig it with a headphones type plug with nothing attached to make it so my unit wouldn't make noise as I send a chirp to the first drummer. That way they know when we are headed back and can start playing without having to guess and run the chance of playing too late or for too long.

In any case, the hike continued and I must admit to having been a bit distracted by the lack of my walkie talkie and started to think of ways I could signal them or just make sure they were playing by the time we rounded the valley. I decided I would attempt to text them since I had found cell reception but figured that they most likely didn't have cell phones on. Then I thought that if I just made the hike a little longer, they would realize before long that something was wrong and start playing.

This paid off, not in drums, but in the fact that we hiked a bit farther than we usually do and stopped for longer times in a few places. The mysterious valley was bustling with bird and animal noises which is extremely beautiful as it is a very quiet valley and the reverberations from one end to the other are spectacular and various. Especially as you go up the wooded hill behind you. We then hiked almost all the way to the loop at the end of the trail and stopped just shy of a beautiful sounding water feature which resonated in the valley as several birds continued their song but closer up this time. We stood there for a long time until finally a gentle wind slowly filled in the whole space with sound.

As we hike back more slowly, we encountered a pair of woodpeckers sending signals across the valley over the last wooden bridge. The first was really near us and pecked in a sort of strange rhythm while the other was far off and barely audible and almost sounded like an echo but the timings were so varied that we knew it was another woodpecker.

As we hiked back further, I got to the place where we usually start to hear the first drum but realized that it wasn't there yet. "Too bad" I thought. "Now we won't really hear how this part of the valley resonates". Just then, a group of motorcycles started revving their engines in the distance and pealing out on the highway. This sound carried all throughout the valley and filled it with all sorts of high and low sounds which traveled and echoed at different speeds. Who needs drums!

Finally, after passing the musicians who were a bit caught off guard, we ascended the stairs to a sudden flurry of drums and voices, making up for lost time. The first drum hit in the main valley really woke the group up and as we rounded the corner and started to hear more reverberation we started to take some long breaks. A good idea really because I often forget that I am in pretty good shape and that these stairs leading up the hillside are pretty strenuous to climb up. I remember years ago when I was in not such good shape how bitterly I would complain about such things. Plus, stopping gives you a chance to really listen to the valley below as the drum becomes more distant. A really nice experience.

It was a busy day at Whitewater and Inspiration Point was quite full so I left the group to take a turn when they got a chance.

This was the first time I got any negative reaction to the drums as a family that was on the cliff edge already started to yell down in imitation of the voices. At first I was pleased as I thought the kids were really getting into what they were hearing and wanted to join in. Who knows, maybe they were. This was soon silenced by the voice of an adult yelling "stop that! You don't have to do what that idiot is doing. We're not going to play his game!". Then, "hey, there he is, he's just down by the stairs! Hey, LITTLE DRUMMER BOY!!!".

It was kind of funny really but the family then descended the stairs. I told them that they had to yell louder if they wanted to hear the echoes and they kind of embarrassedly sulked down the hill. Later I heard that they also harassed my musicians in the park as they walked by and later, we found discarded candy wrappers under the tarps. Guess they showed us.

Music in the park is not for everyone, but I would say one bad reaction out of about 400 people in the park is not too bad. I usually do much worse!

The drummers thought that this one was especially intense so I guess the drama at the beginning helped.

Whitewater, Sunday September 5th 2010 10:00 AM

12 hikers. A record. Amongst the hikers were Amy Barret who is my main contact at the DNR headquarters and her husband John and family of 4 children. There was also a family of 5 with a 6 month old dog named pogo and a single woman who was a writer and a photographer among other things from what I could gather. The planes again played an important role but we were also graced with several very incessant conversations between birds as we stood between different water features in the creek. They made patterns that seemed to repeat themselves in a broad rhythm around our heads as we listened to the flowing waters which kind of broke down gradually after about 5 or 6 repetitions.

Though difficult to fit the whole group on the second bridge, we managed to listen closely to both sides of the bridge and I think the whole group caught the high vs low pitched sides that mixed as we moved from side to side. When we reached the mysterious valley, we were serenaded by a single bird which let out a regular rhythm as well as a distant caw of an eagle in the valley. As this was playing out, a freight train that I had never noticed before let out a loud whistle which filled in the valley with sound and really re-framed the entire sonic landscape. We then returned to the regular rise and fall of various planes flying overhead which made a counterpoint to the train that we were leaving behind. Just at the right time, I began to hear the sound of the drum but stopped a little closer than I meant to however. I thought the over flying planes helped to smooth out the transition though as we approached the drums and the stairs leading up the stairs to inspiration point.

In the end, the group was very brave and went all the way to the edge of the point where they could really hear everything in the valley. The drummers were quite on their game this morning despite the cold.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Whitewater September 4th 2010, 1:00 PM

Again, an adult style hike. And again, a plane flew overhead right on cue which caused park naturalist Dave Palmquist who joined us for the hike to enquire if I called that plane in on purpose. Dave has bee such a great help in making this hike happen and I have learned quite a bit from his advice about how to run a hike in general and even learned a thing or two about how to run my listening hike so I was really glad to have him along to actually hear what we had been collaborating on for the past few months. Also on the hike was Jennifer from the park office and two couples, one camping in the park and one from St. Charles where my friend Laura at Hava Java is really talking up the hike to the whole town.

Planes were quite the common thread in this hike flying overhead and sometimes mixing with the wind and water below. At one point after the first bridge where we stopped to listen to the water features both to the right and left of us, a plane flew overhead as crickets on both sides made rising and disappearing drone sounds making a unique and beautiful three dimensional sonic mix. When we reached the turn around point, a plane flying overhead framed the sound of the wind and a creaking tree as well as birds chattering in the distance. Then, as we made the return trek and the sound of distant drums became more and more apparent, the sound of another over flying plane framed the steady crescendo of the drum as we walked closer and closer and almost at times disguised it as we rounded the corner into the main valley.

Though it is hard for me to gauge how the sounds in the valley fit together as the hikers sit at inspiration point (you cannot really hear the reverberations from the vantage point of the drums) I think they got an extra interesting improvisation and it seems we are starting to kind of "respond" to one another often slightly imitiating each others sounds from iteration to iterations giving the same sounds to activate different parts of the valley. This is especially interesting form me since I cannot hear the farthest drummer when I play and I know she can't hear me however, I think we are communicating in a way through the middle drummer who we can each imitate and who can imitate each of us.

In any case, the audience was very pleased with what they heard and I think that we finally hit the mark. Amazing what you can do with an amature french horn player and someone who has absolutely no background in music such as the two volunteers who are joining me on this leg of the song path. We are engaging in free improvisation in a giant valley.


Whitewater, Saturday September 4th 10:00

This hike started with three adults to which a family of 6 was added. I had just finished commenting on how I had not done a full adult hike yet and was looking forward to doing a hike completely silent and though the family of 6 included a few younger children, I had a hunch they could handle it. Anyways, I needed to get my mind in to listening so we stopped just before the first river crossing and did the full meditation with closed eyes. I was amazed at their patience and I think everyone really started to listen carefully.

As I was doing the meditation, I asked the group to open their ears to the larger space and listen to the sounds of planes flying overhead and trucks passing by on the highway. As if on cue a plane was flying overhead and a truck driving by suddenly burst into the sound field.

I discovered a nice spot between the first and second bridge in which two water features frame a field of tall grass containing all sorts of crickets and frogs creating a mix of cicada drones and stereophonic scintillation of the low and high water sounds. A bird with a raspy caw flew overhead and added extra punctuation to the collage as we walked on.

A runner who passed us on the second bridge was looping back when we reached the turn around point at the "mysterious valley" and broke a beautiful silence as there were no birds and wind sounds present for quite some time. It was nice to have a sound come from far down the valley, get close, and then disappear around the corner of the hill. I hope she wasn't too embarrassed. It was a nice moment.

I discovered that if I stop on the way back just after the second bridge, you can hear the iterations of the first drum literally whipping around the corner around your head. I will have to try a few more stops along the way in future hikes.

We made a few tweaks to the "drum" part of the hike which I think make their presence more effective in demonstrating the valleys character and as we climbed the stairs, we were graced with a few more big drum hits which became more and more powerful as we got farther away until they became pure reverberation and slowly faded out until we round the corner to inspiration point where the hikers get the full perspective of all three drums filling the three valleys with sound.

The kids on this hike were so well behaved and such hearty hikers I wanted to buy them iced cream. I will leave that to their parents though.

Whitewater Friday September 3rd 1:00 PM

Another family, this time of 4. Very exuberant with two young boys who seemed to need to let off some steam. None the less, I did the meditation at the beginning of the hike though it was a slightly abridged version to not bore the two of them too much. We stopped just after the first creek crossing where large concrete slabs act as steps across the water. We listened to the sounds of two different small rapids, the steady sound of wind which was very present as the weather was threatening rain, and we also heard a smattering of birds and crickets in the distance. This is a nice spot because the valley itself is so diverse in its sound and birds that are far off and other sounds that are closer create sharp contrasts from iteration to iteration.

We then began the hike and stopped at places along the way and really heard deeply the sounds of water as we were confronted with a new water feature or insect cluster of sound around each corner. The stop after the first bridge was especially nice as the rain had made a hidden water feature there much stronger and it could be heard clearly against the creek behind us and the buds all around us. We the hiked farther past the second bridge and into what I have termed "the mysterious valley" as the sonic features have an air of mystery to them. There we listened to a section filled with birds and bugs and I then signaled the drummers. We didn't hear them until a bit later, but on occasion, I thought I heard a subtle "coloration" along the edges of the valley which would add to the mystery of this place. We hiked back quickly but still stopped to listen on the bridge and in between the bridges again as the drums became more present. As we got to the top, I realized that I really wanted to sit with the group to gage the effectiveness of the drums and be able to actually hear the right moment to stop them but I have obligated myself to activating a part of the valley with a drum just beneath the stairs. I think this intrigues the audience when I suddenly disappear and then they hear the sound it makes, but from the perspective of the drummer, you don't hear the reverberations of the valley that you are making possible with your playing. Interesting acoustic feature. But this performance is for the audience and not me. I think the fact that I cannot hear clearly what the other drummers are doing from my vantage point and vice versa makes it more "random" in a similar way to the way that sound in the park (water features, bird sounds, wind rising and falling) are "random". That is to say, there are certain mathematical and probabilistic principles at work when water flows over rocks or birds start to chirp or wind begins to wail through the trees. I guess I was trying to emulate that with the instructions I gave to the musicians and to be able to hear and impose a human decision onto that cachophony would be against the point of the piece. Or would it????

The hike ended with heavy winds howling through the valley as the family of four sat on the rocks above. A really nice moment I think. But a bit scary for the boys. But not too scary.

Whitewater Hike, Friday September 3rd 10:00 AM

A young family of five showed up as the hike was ready to start. We were a little behind schedule. Things got pretty interesting in town.

I had to go into town to check some emails early in the morning so I went in to visit my friends at the Hava Java where I had crashed a family party a few days earlier during gladiolas days and listened to some sweet three part harmonies being laid down outside. They invited me in even though they weren't technically open for business. Love small towns!

Anyways, I got to talking to Laura who runs the coffee shop and gift store as well as practices music therapy and teaches mandolin and guitar to young kids and she was intrigued by the story I had to tell as she made me some coffee and schooled a local man in cribbage. She then proceeded to introduce me to everyone in town as they entered her place and walked me down to the local newspaper where she introduced me to the entire editorial staff (a nice young woman named Linda) and they hooked me up with a story to run the following Friday! So easy!

I also then found out the amazing news-which everyone in town and in Minnesota seemed to know but me- in which two fugitives from the law were apprehended in the park wednesday night by a swat team and a bunch of US marshals with full body armor and assault rifles and accidental rifle discharges and a battering ram and the works. I though I was distracted by 24 hours of moving but imagined how distracted I would be if I was around for that whole drama!

Anyways, back to the hike.

We left from the south picnic as planned and since the hike included three young children, we spent a bit more time talking than I would normally. Despite some contention over the walking order (oldest to youngest or youngest to oldest) between the elder brother and sister, they were extremely well behaved and participated in the listening taking turns hiking a bit farther towards the front near me and really noticing the subtle features of the creek along the way and imitated these features with their mouths.

They had seen the drums along the way and even though there were many interesting things to hear along the way they were especially concerned with the "two girls" and "when would they get to see them play the drums?""

of course, they immediately heard the drums when we started to retrace our steps back to the wooden staircase and when we got near the first drummer were pointing and shouting making a great cacophony in the woods with the sound of the drum. As we climbed the wooden stairs, they asked "why does she keep hitting the drum?" to which I replied "so you can hear how it changes" to which they responded "why?" to which I responded " ...... ?"

But when we rounded the last stair case and hiked over to the edge of inspiration point, I think they finally got it. There is a big area near the last set of stairs where the drums become quite faint but then suddenly re appear when you hike to the point and then are heard in their full glory sailing around the edges of the cliff walls and hills as well as just plain filling the valley floor. As the drums first came into ear shot, I was delighted at they way the rolling sound of the drum rolled around the edges of the valley and blended with the low rumblings of the water making it hard to distinguish as a drum but interesting to hear more as we got closer and closer.

Near the end, I realized the ending signal I had given for the other two to stop playing would not be audible since I had changed the position of my third drum so I called on the two way radio I had signaled the beginning of the drumming with and just manually called them off. It seemed to work even though we never really got in direct touch.

A success!

Whitewater Revisited

After a few days in Osage, a couple of days in Whitewater, and then a day of extreme apartment moving in Chicago, I finally returned to Whitewater with my sister Jennifer and her friend Courtney who have volunteered to be my musicians for the weekend here. Jennifer has spent 3 years as a teacher in the Brooklyn school system on a Brooklyn College Teaching Fellowship and is currently planing a move to Australia where she is a citizen by birth to pursue some lab assistantships and do some traveling before returning to the states to get a degree in physical therapy. She is also a gifted musician, a trait she cleverly did not pursue as a career, but has kept as a part of her life and personality none the less.

She and Courtney spent the day very patiently hiking, sitting, waiting, beating on drums, making noises with their voices, hitting various percussion instruments, and then doing it all over again a various locations until we found just the right spots. It turned out that the ridge atop the mountain opposite inspiration point that I was so proud of having found a few days before ended up yielding less than satisfactory results once I got atop inspiration point and heard it there. Though the sound came across crystal clear, it did very little to activate the reverberation in the valley below and unfortunately, we had to hike the drum back through the woods and down the hill to the parking lot and then to a better spot along trout run creek trail.

After deciding that the drums were too biased to the right when sitting at the point, I then had my sister hike all around the hill just to the left as you sit on the point to find the place where that part of the valley was most activated by the sound of the smaller drum.

Speaking of drums, I have two new drums with me now bought from my high school alma-mater in Bloomington, John F. Kennedy High. Each of these drums were in fact drums that were used in my tenure on the drumline there. Now one had been tuned lower and used as a taiko drum and then other was an extremely heavy relic from the early days and was replaced after my freshman year. Very heavy for a marching drum.

They sound amazing in the valley. It is not really the drum I am interested in, it is the valley. That is why I hiked one of the drums back down in to it. The point of this hike is not that there are drums in the park, it is that there is an amazing valley who's sonic properties need to be explored and drums alone really reveal that low end response. We spent about 6-7 hours perfecting things, and I wished we had another day to keep on tweaking, but with their patience and enthusiasm I think we have it!.

The first hike is tomorrow at 10. We need some rest.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Wiitewater: The Trout Run Creek Trail and the steps up to Inspiration Point

After missing the parade and accidentally crashing a local family gathering at the local coffee shop they ran in town, I returned to Whitewater to do a hike of the trail I will be using for Song Path. It follows the trout run creek trail, a trail which is dense with water features around every corner, lots of noisy insects, and birds as well as a plethora of different sonic features including stretches that skirt the edge of steep hills that frame the valley it cuts through. Various bridges give stereophonic perspectives on the shallow creek rapids below and fields of various foliage contain different insect and frog breeds which create unique sonic landscapes in the small nooks and crannys that the trail takes you through.

In sharp contrast to Banning where there were sometimes intense moments of silence and where a constant large water feature took over the sound field and then slowly faded into the background to reveal a more still area, the trout run creek trail is a constant barrage of changing sound which occupies your ears at all times and in a way keeps your attention focused on what is directly around you.

After the hike goes deep into the trout run creek trail, I will activate the surprise at which point we will loop back around and hike at a more brisk pace until we reach the steps going up to inspiration point. At this point, my hope is that the audiences focus will be shifted to the larger space as the "surprise" fills the valley with sound. The perspective on this sound will change gradually as the hikers climb the wooden steps and as they reach inspiration point, exhausted, they will hear as well as see the whole valley below.

I am really looking forward to working on tweaking the "surprises" over the next few days and getting the experience to work as best as it can.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Starting again at Whitewater

I am not in St Charles Sitting at a table at a local coffee shop but I spent the morning and early afternoon hiking the Dakota Trail to look for nice spots to put musicians. The dakota is a 3 mile hike with at least three major inclines and valleys to overcome so I am a bit tired but still plan to hit the main hike along the trout run trail and up to inspiration point before sundown.

I spent a couple days helping out with an art opening for my father in law in Osage IA before this which was fun. He is a great artist living in Arizona now and this show was to try and find homes for some of the artwork that is still up in this area. (Check it out if you get a chance at the Mitchell County Historical Society in Osage, IA)

I managed to find a place *way off trail but still pretty easy to get to that you can see inspiration point from. I think it will be a good spot but I got a few scrapes on the way down as I didn't follow my tracks thinging I would find my way back to the trail with an alternate route but instead ended up scaling down a big hill that led all the way to the south picnic area. Wow.

The Dakota trail is extremely beautiful but re-affirmed my belief that I had chosen the right trail as many of the other very picturesque valleys did not have the same amazing echoes as exist in the valleys overlooked by inspiration point. Not just visually inspiring. Also sonically!

Gichi Gumi Trail: Monday evening, August 23rd.

I used the mics I was loaned to record a hike that I had envisioned early on along the Gitchi Gami trail at Gooseberry Falls north of Twin Harbors along the north shore of lake superior. I was extremely tired when I was headed up there, but a little bit of water and some snacks and I was ready though I was missing a wind screen so I had to use some socks. Don't worry, you can't catch any communicable diseases through audio recording as far as I know.

Anyways, I can't quite explain the whole hike but will say that it is a hike I would have loved to include in this run of Song Path but the logistics were just a bit too difficult. I think if I ever do the hike in MN again I will do a weekend or two here logistics or not! Here's a map! It starts over near the upper falls just to the west of the Hwy 61 bridge where you follow the river for a bit past a few sets of shallow rapids and then come upon the full fury of the upper falls. Then you follow the trail around to the falls overlook and then cross the hwy 61 bridge. The constant but uneven iterations of cars and trucks driving by constantly punctuate the various water features you pass here including the lower and upper falls which fade in and out of one another depending on where you are standing but when you pass underneath the bridge you get a real show with a giant reverb chamber and all. Then I followed the Gitchi Gami Trail which goes up an incline to an overlook of lake superior and back again. You never quite get out of earshot of the highway but you do pass various grass and forested areas as well as an overlook of the river valley as it feeds into the lake. A spectacular perspective or series of perspectives on this one dramatic place. As you approach the lake itself, you are treated to several overlooks where the sound of the waves crashing on the beach becomes audible. Finally, you are on a cliff overlooking just the lake and the waves crashing against the rocks below. A spectacular audible moment that only lasts as long as you look over the edge. The acoustic shielding that 300 feet of solid rock provides is quite impressive.

As you loop around and leave the lake, the sound of the waves begins to blend into the distant sound of cars passing by on the highway. They are often at the same rate and their rise and fall seems to almost imitate the other. A creek which was very low when I last visited now runs high and provides several sonic features that contrast the sound of the highway and insects that I pass as I walk. Finally, I emerge onto a bluff overlooking the highway itself where the rock below was blasted out to let the road run more straight. Frogs and crickets give a constant din under which the sound of passing cars rise and fall drowning them out and then letting them cut through once again. Another pass under highway 61 brings us to the visitor center and we end with a similar sound world to what we began with. I plan to post the whole recording here eventually but first I have to edit the segments together. Technical difficulties doncha know!

Monday August 23rd 1:00 PM

A great group. In fact, so great they were related to me. My brother Mike and his wife Kari and their two young children Madi 6 an Aidenn 2 1/2 (pronounced EEEEEden by the man himself).

Now, we Ingebritsen's are actually not known for our ability to remain silent for extended periods of time. Just ask anyone who knows any of us. Most people who know me who hear about this project wonder how I can manage it. I just tell them it is therapy for me. However, for this hike, I decided it best to just let what happened happen. Just asking occasionally what they were hearing. I found the two little ones to be quite attentive listeners despite a running tally of each sound they were hearing including birds, water, the various parts of the river, the quick rush of the wind through the trees. I even got my niece and god daughter Madi to listen to the way the sound of the waterfall at the bridge slowly turned into wind and back again as we left and returned to the bridge. Despite a quick stop for snacks and some confusion over the location of the drum, the two had a fun hike and I even got by brother in on the action by having him play the drum once we got into the stone crushing area. As this was the last hike, we carried the drum out to the car so it would be ready to go and Madi and Aiden took special pleasure in taking turns hitting it as hard as they could. I showed them how if they wanted to make a bigger sound, they should hit it less hard but just try to bring the sound out of the drum instead of pulverizing it. They were really just having too much fun pulverizing it though.

Glad they came up,

but now tired. And going up to Gooseberry Falls to record a hike along the Gichi Gumi Trail.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sunday August 22nd 4:00 PM

Just sitting here at the old Chris' Food Center after my last hike of the day. The first day I had absolutely no reservations at all and also the first day that I managed to fill all three hikes!

This time some friends of my buddy Chris Chelgren to whom he had raved about the hike enough that they made the trek from St. Paul. I must admit to having been a bit worn out by the two hikes I had already done as they were both fairly long and it was a hot day, but this hike was especially worth it for me and I am glad they showed up because otherwise I would have missed it!

It began with the meditation which was mostly wind and water with the occasional distant iteration from the highway which I was glad I specifically pointed out because the larger sound environment became quite important in this hike.

First, as we approached the waterfall (which had died down quite a bit even since the 1:00 hike) we were challenged with the sound of a helicopter flying overhead. As we approached, the helicopter reached a climax and began to dye down and though it was loud, it was no match for the waterfall which was still very loud on the bridge. As we left the bridge and the waterfall died out, we could hear the distant whimpers of the helicopters among another serenade of birds, perhaps the same group from our 10:00 hike.

We then approached the dripping walls (walls now since all the natural walls that you walk past just before the mound have been active with water features since the rain) and I stopped at each one even though much of the water activity had ceased. This gave us the opportunity to listen to silence and then subtle water drops emerging out of the silence as we proceeded until we reached the mound where a small trickle still drips down in a regular pattern but it can only be heard from the top of the mound. As we left the intimate setting of the mound, the distant train began to sound its horn and the freight cars began to fill the space around us. The low and reverberant rumble slowly filled our ears along with the occasional punctuation of the horn while the helicopter returned at regular intervals as we rounded the dripping wall (the main dripping wall) and explored the details and the dripping pool as well as the waterfall near the dripping pool. As the train and plane faded into the distance, we rounded the corner and also left the dripping pool as if to end this section of music and entered cicada alley to start the second movement with the low rumblings of the river contrasting the sounds of a group fishing in the waters along the bank. This all contrasted with the return of the helicopter for one more pass as we proceeded along the river to the rocky river overlook and beyond. I managed to keep my mouth shut this time for the loop around the rock crusher and powerhouse and I think my sudden performance was quite a surprise for my two hikers.

As the surrounding man made features seemed to be the ongoing theme of this hike, I decided to follow the MCC trail to the outhouse where this time of day they seem to always be using some kind of noisy device to clean out the septic tanks. A great ending to a great hike.

Sunday August 22nd 1:00 PM

Again, despairing of a lack of sign ups and a cancellation for this slot, I went down to the picnic area thinking that I would have an afternoon off, but with the song path, no result can be expected and I was delighted to have a group of college students appear asking if I was "The guy doing the show".

I was.

And quite the show. They asked how long the hike was and stated they might be under some time constraints so I told them I would try and hike a bit faster. As we proceeded though, it appeared that the time constraints might not have been as crucial as I originally thought because as I hiked at a good pace, I noticed that they were mostly lagging behind and even started going off trail to get closer to the river. These 4 were real explorers and wanted to hit all the nooks and crannies near the cliff walls so we did quite a bit of off trail exploring that usually doesn't happen on the hike.

First, we hit the big hole near the dripping wall which had become much more interesting even since the last time I went down there to record with a distinct and quite present low bubbling sound near one corner where water is flowing down a crevice between two slabs into a small cavern underneath.

We did a bit of talking on this tour and I discovered that one of the hikers was a music business student and another a student at Northland College in Wisconsin where she insisted there were lots of kids that would be "totally into this hike". It sounds like a cool place. I am going to definitely be in touch. I think I might need more volunteers for the second weekend in September when I do Song Path down in Whitewater!

Again we hit the river early after cicada alley and then headed straight for the rock crusher and powerhouse loop where we engaged in a kind of freeform improv within each of the walls of the two buildings. Though we spent a lot of time chatting about various things, I think we managed to hear many things in the park that I just would have missed if they hadn't been so curious. I had fun.

Sunday August 22nd 10:00 AM

Today there were no reservations on the books except for one cancellation so I was prepared to perhaps take a 4:00 journey up to Gooseberry Falls but it was not to be as all three of the hikes were filled with last minute walk ins which were welcomed after a couple of slower days in the park.

This hike started with me pulling in a bit later than normal to meet a retired woman who had intended to come with a few friends but after one thing led to another they all became quite busy so she decided to come herself. I was happy she did as it was my first hike with just one hiker. It was a really different experience as I felt it game me the freedom to step back a bit more and observe what a single hiker would notice on their own. I tried this time to listen and sort of suggest what should be listened to but allow her to guide the experience. I don't think she could tell I was doing this of course, but it was interesting to see what happened.

Right off the bat she noticed that there was a distinct lack of bird noises in the initial leg of the hike. "You need to get some birds out here!" she insisted. Then, as if on cue, a group of birds of different varieties began to lay down one of the most interesting grooves I have heard in a long time like they were making a track for Bjork or Nobukazu Takemura. Sometimes you have to tell singers what to do I guess.

We then proceeded past the bridge which she noticed faded quickly despite the loud sound it made as we passed. I pointed out that sometimes the bird sounds seemed to emerge out of it and again, as if they were trying to prove me right, sang in almost harmony with the waters sounds. They must have heard me calling them lazy in earlier hikes and decided to teach me a lesson.

After the dripping wall, we proceeded to cicada alley (newly named) but of course, they were not up that early in the morning, kind of the Jazz musicians of the forest. I did decide to explore a new path which leads straight to the river in variation to the normal river overlook. The river overlook gives a very sudden and dramatic sonic approach to the river which is at what is normally the "golden mean" point of the tour but exploring the path behind cicada alley has its own reward in that it prepares the ears for the overlook which is now just a wash of high and low sound and rewards the ear with very distinct low gulping sounds that create a nice steady rhythm. These are similar to sounds heard farther up stream but here you hear them much closer up which is less reverberant but more present and a nice contrasting singular sonic moment.

Again on our way back the birds gave a last serenade at the stone steps which is a nice place to hear them as the temporary shielding the sandstone provides from the river allows them to cut through the din ever so briefly and then be enveloped once again in the sound of the rapids.

Saturday August 21st 4:00 PM

After having an empty 10:00 and a no show at 1:00, I spent most of the morning today getting dirty and putting microphones where microphones were never meant to go along the trail especially in the caves along the dripping wall where my head can't fit but the mics can. Yes, this trip I actually brought some decent mics with me and have spent some of the free time recording, not only the path itself as I normally do it with the audience, but also some closeup recordings of various smaller water features. I am partly doing this for posterity and partly for a project that my friend Brad conceived of while out here with me to make various recordings and do a deep exploration of the natural tones of the park and their harmonic series to create tonal textures. Brad also provided the microphones (sorry to be putting them where they aught not to go. They are really nice) and also has a studio in St. Paul so I look forward to playing with the sounds there when I get a chance. I think it will definitely be a collaborative effort if we make something from the recordings.

In any case, I held out hope for the 4 PM hike and was rewarded with a family of 4 with two girls who seemed to be around late junior high or early high school aged. We started down the trail on a very calm afternoon with the river raging at perhaps the highest point it had been all weekend or would be to come. Many of the water features began to recede but the waterfall by the bridge was still raging and the occasional interjection of birds emerged from the din as we left the bridge.

I have become more fond of encouraging hikers to spend time listening to the caves I spoke of earlier as I find it gives them a chance to explore certain areas on their own which I think is an important feature of the song path. Each hiker hears differently, so they should have a chance to follow their own ears at times. This group was especially curious in this area and listened to the low drips of the cave intently.

The cicadas were again out in full force and as we rounded the south west end of the loop we listened as their drone became louder and louder against the receding sound of the waterfall near the dripping wall. We then proceeded into an area covered in small sandstone shards and the constant drone of the cicadas with the individual insects turning off their part of the sound as you would approach mixed with the sound of the rocks crunching under foot.

The river was still very high but the sound of frogs and other bugs surrounded us as we stood on the river overlook and not even the constant rush of water could drown them out.

We ended the tour with the sound of a couple of birds of the MCC trail making a regular pulse with some variation. The sounds of the parking lot began to come into focus as we walked closer to the picnic area and made a nice counterpoint to this regular pulse.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Friday August 20th, 4:00

A real nice afternoon. After a day of more rain, the 4:00 hike was filled by a mother and daughter team from who's accent I placed to be from somewhere in either southwest or northern Minnesota. Of course, I am bad a placing accents.

The rains we had had during the week of and the previous evening on into the morning made the water level extremely high and the water features were going full force. The hike started off with the usual meditation during which we were subtly teased by the distant sound of birds which often blended with the higher scintillation of of the river and the high pitch of the wind. This theme of animal sounds gently protruding and emerging from other features was a re-occurring theme this hike. As we hiked near the river, these background noises would emerge at times in places where the river was more dampened. Then, as we left the now raging waterfall under the bridge, a small group of birds were singing up the path and the high rhythms of the river did a sort of crossfade as if the birds emerged out of the river sound. Later in the path, after we stood atop the large mound where the water was creating a swift "buzzing" type rhythm, a squirrel let out an angry buzz of his own as if in imitation of the water feature.

The wind was very quite which made it's occasional appearance that much more dramatic and it made me think about how many animals and bird sounds get covered by the wind as I heard these features more prominently on this hike. The activity of the now dozens of water feature made it easy to hike the trail at a slightly faster pace between the mound and the dripping wall as each of the features was loud enough to hear from a distance and hiking a bit faster allowed us to sort of Cross Fade between each of the features from subtle drips to raging waterfalls. It was a spectacular display which helped to set the stage for the deeper exploration we would do then at the dripping wall and the small caves that we had discovered on a previous hike.

As the river was running high and fast, the major sound it made was the high pitched sound of breaking waves which made it so that when you got closer, some of the lower more rhythmic features were covered but as you got farther away, these low sounds became more pronounced above the din so or path along the river at the lower part of the trail was bombarded by the occasional low swell which made stone crusher and power house that more interesting to just stand and listen in. There was no drummer this hike, but I though it was just as interesting to make the hikers more suddenly aware of the space when we entered and I did a short improvisation. I am having more and more fun with the short slap delay in the rock crusher and have found that the sound drastically changes as you go from left to right in the space itself. The two hikers were treated (or subjected) to an extra long improv in the rock crusher. I hope they did enjoy it!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Thursday August 19th 4 PM

Not but 30 minutes after the end of the 1:00 hike, it was time for the 4. A single hiker named Holly joined me and we were later joined by Patrick mid trail. This hike got very deep as both Patrick and Holly were interested in exploring every aspect of the places we stopped. Though my poor sister was waiting longer than usual for us to arrive, I could not possibly rush them. We were given a bit of an extra performance by a squirrel throwing nuts down at us near the large mound on the initial leg of the hike. I have found that today I had a hard time getting hikers to follow me to the top as they explored other aspects of the space but encouraged them to go there as it is only atop that mound that the dripping water by the natural cliff wall can be heard clearly. It makes a great contrast to the mix of silence, angry squirrel, and distant birds.

After that point, we were made aware of the larger space due to a large group of kids jumping off the cliff walls into the river in the distance. The iterations of them jumping into the water seemed to occur at a similar interval as I have instructed musicians to hit the drum so I at first thought that my sister had just become impatient with waiting and decided to start smacking the drum. A nice sort of fore shadowing.

At the dripping wall, we again explored the space very deeply and discovered that with the extra moisture in the ground, there were many small caves below us filled with empty space and dripping water that we stuck our heads near and listened to many different sonic spaces within a few square meters of each other. This addition made this quite area very dramatic and as we then pulled our attention back to the larger space there seemed to be so much more to hear as if we had discovered an entire universe in a space that was previously only a planet.

The sound of the cliff divers continued to fill the greater space and re-informed the more intimate sounds we were hearing. We hiked off trail again where the cicadas were waking up and lingered there a bit before hiking on. We noticed that as we approached a certain spot where one of them was sitting under the rocks, they would stop making noise creating a sort of gap in the sonic texture and causing a sort of electronic sounding shift in the chord that was being struck by all of them together.

After we lingered a bit at the river, we marched on to the powerhouse. While we were listening closely to the bass line that the water created, a gaggle of geese flew overheard making a semi-regular rhythmic sound that is characteristic of them which seemed to mix quite intentionally with the sound of the water and made a brief counterpoint.

Again, I could not get the hikers to bend to my will when passing the powerhouse but this time did not notice that they had gone off the trail until after I had arrived at the rock crusher. Instead of going back though, I just began my improvisation in the rock crusher and kept it going until they finally returned to the trail and saw me there. This made the whole area a bit more interesting in that they got to see the powerhouse twice and were a bit more free to explore it more deeply the second time. When I began my improv there, they joined me and Holly even broke out into song singing a few blues and jazz standards from, as I learned later, her time as a singer in a blues band. As she sang, Patrick and I ran around the powerhouse to hear how the sound changed from different perspectives and this song path ended when the kids that had been cliff diving approached the powerhouse and began to pummel it with rocks. A big no no in the parks, but from our perspective, an amazing sound.

Though one of the longer hikes I have done, I felt it was one of the most rewarding and really enjoyed the experience.

Thursday August 19th, 1 PM

The 1 PM hike was dedicated to staff as the naturalist for St. Croix and Banning came out to experience the hike along with my sister Jennifer with her boyfriend Patrick manning the drum.

Megan Johnson, the naturalist who joined us, is also the person that recommended I check out Banning while I was doing some hiking around St. Croix last year. I explained my concept to her and she seemed to immediately get it and pointed me in the direction of the quarry loop trail which I still think is perhaps the ideal place for the Song Path. It was great to have her on the hike to see what she listened and looked for.

We started a little closer to the river for the meditation which I find to be more interesting when listening to the water, especially when there are fewer birds around. Thanks to some heavy rain while I was safe and sound in the cities the water features were up again and the waterfall underneath the bridge was raging. However, the dripping wall was still fairly subtle and we had an amazing time exploring that place a bit more deeply than I had in the past.

Megan, being a mother of two, a naturalist, and general park staff, was multi-tasking as she listened and found all sorts of interesting things in the park such as mushrooms, grasses, pieces of coal, and snake skins as well as pulling up wild mustard weed when she saw it. She also did some incredibly deep listening not just to features that I was pointing out but also to micro-features of the park that I had not considered before. She would put her ear right up to trees to hear the insides as well as listen for birds hiding in the branches and also listened closely to sounds occurring underneath certain weeds and shrubs on the ground. She was graced with the sounds of a couple of small spiders chasing each other around in the small microcosm of the ground and got us both to listen to these features more deeply. We were also serenaded by a couple of small birds (sadly I do not know the species) that had very short and regular chirps but who were chirping at different regular rates creating a sort of out of phase rhythm. As they made their percussive piece, a couple of woodpeckers began to fly overhead and peck at the wood in slow regular intervals as well as tear at the bark to get at insects inside the tree. I learned from Megan that the fast pecking we usually associate with woodpeckers is literally more for communication than feeding and that when they are eating they peck much more slowly.

Later, when we reached the powerhouse, Megan heard the sound of the drum and went into park ranger mode thinking there was someone throwing rocks or something vandalizing the inside of one of the structures. It actually took us off our regular course but since that is where the hike was going, I followed. When she realized what it was, she was relieved and we did a backwards loop starting at the power house and ending with the rock crusher.

We ended the hike with the sound of a loud AC or vacuum unit inside one of the buildings near the parking lot. A great way to end.

Jennifer and Patrick.

After spending a restful three days in the cities and hosting a retirement party for my father, I hit the road again up to Banning Thursday Morning. This time I was joined by my sister Jennifer and her boyfriend Patrick. They were troopers in getting up at the crack of dawn to join me and helped me with my 1 PM and 4 PM hikes, both of which went longer than I had told them. Jenny played the french horn in school and I am not sure what Patrick's musical background was but they both did a great job and followed my always vague instructions to a tea. They now travel on to Winnepeg and I wish them a great trip.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Monday August 16th, 4:00 PM

After a quite morning of emailing and eating a health campfire breakfast with Shannon, we headed to town for some emailing and then did a 1:00 hike just the two of us. Shannon hadn't actually been on the Song Path and it was quite relaxing and a nice chance to spend some quality time together. We then tore down our campsite and headed back to the trail for a 4:00 hike that was booked for two families with children ages 2-13. I was prepared.

At around 4:03, a mini-van containing two adult men comes tearing into the parking lot and a head sticks out of a rolled down window, "are you the nature tour guy?". They get out and explain that the tour was going to be 9 people but they had just done a long hike with all the kids and they were not having another hike just after so the two decided to go it alone.

Under normal circumstances, I would insist that a hike with adults be totally silent, or at least attempt to do so, but the two asked if they could chat along the way and for some reason I thought it wouldn't ruin the experience with the two of them so agreed to a chatting tour. I did point out that the experience would be best if they allowed themselves to listen in particular places. This actually made the tour quite interesting as I learned along the way that one of the hikers was also a composer and cellist named Aaron Kerr who performed his own works and as it turned out, had recorded in my friend Brad's studio in St Paul called Essential Sessions. I also learned that the other hiker Dean was involved with charter schools and knew a lot about acoustics as he had been in charge of a project in which they measured the acoustics of the rooms at their charter schools and got recommendations on how to improve them. Apparently, the acoustics of a room have been proven to effect the performance of students in a given class as certain places in a room make the teacher hard to hear and muddled. He was often commenting on the hike that a certain location would be great to work in.

Though I feel we might have missed some interesting transitions along the way, I also realized that allowing them to chat and ask questions along the way allowed us to reflect on particular features as we walked. I also felt more free to go off trail in places that I had not ventured with other groups and we made some amazing sonic discoveries. After the first and second dripping walls, there are a stack of rocks left over from the quarry mines. Rocks that were still there after the last train pulled out of Banning. We spent quite a bit of time walking between these rocks as they noticed the very dry acoustic that part of the path makes but then we ventured behind them, a somewhat more difficult area where uneven rocks have moss growing on them where I am disinclined to take people normally. Behind these rocks, after carefully scaling some larger rock faces- and being careful not to trample some small fern like plants growing on the rocks- we emerged in a small chamber created by the quarry miners as rock was piled up on one side and sheer cliff walls surrounded it on the other two. This was perhaps the quietest place I had been in the park and even the very slow trickle of water down the walls seemed quite dramatic.

Later in the hike, stopping to hear the sounds of cicadas, Aaron actually went off path himself to follow the sound to its source so Dean and I followed to great reward as we were surrounded and enveloped as we walked with their texture slowly changing and deepening as we turned one way and another while walking of shards of left over sandstone from the stone cutters near the south west leg of the trail. I we then hit the river overlook which was the most spectacular I had heard it yet and we actually again stayed off trail longer than I normally do braving a section of trail that is a bit more narrow and overgrown and very close to the river's edge. Normally I would avoid this part as it seems a bit dangerous for kids and maybe older folks which my two brave hikers confirmed "yeah, we wouldn't have tried this with the kids!"

The stone crusher and powerhouse were also extra interesting as I asked the two of them if they would care to join me in a little jam session in the strange reverb chambers. They were more than happy to oblige and we ended up doing kind of slow rhythmic improvisations in each with the drum punctuating our playing. Fun!

I ended this tour earlier than normal as the sound of the bubbling and lapping against the sandstone at the river near where the quarry loop and spur trail split off was so spectacular. It just seemed like an appropriate place to stop and reflect.

Sunday August 15th 4:00 PM

My first mixed crowd. Meaning, my first hike with two groups of people that did not know each other before. A family of 5 with 3 very attentive older children and an older couple by themselves. I know I keep mentioning the makeup of each group. It is important for me in that I feel different types of groups will have different ways of enjoying the experience.

I will admit that on this hike I at first thought it would be a challenge to create an experience that everyone would enjoy but then decided just to run the hike as if it was a single group of adults with a few extra stops for the younger crowd and maybe a little bit of interaction to keep their attention.

I found that it was much easier than I had expected to keep everyone's attention and that the kids were just as intent in their listening as the adults. I also found that often they were lingering in places longer than I was inclined to which, as I have said before, makes me feel like I have done my job. In the end, I felt that all of us were listening with similar ears as we got used to each other and it ended up being a very satisfying hike despite a very pointed lack of bird sounds. This singers taking the afternoon off!

The water features and wind really came out in this hike and as the wind would rise and fall it really emphasized the subtle sounds of water and the rare punctuation of a bird, insect, or squirrel. This time, the mixing of the low river sounds and the drum actually slightly frightened one of the hikers as they really thought it was rocks turning over in the water and then realized it was coming suddenly from further inland. I don't think the fear was too great though as she said she was coming back next weekend.

The water features are really starting to recede but instead of making things less interesting it is in fact making those places more intimate but also more sonically diverse as you can hear more details of minute water drops.

My wife Shannon played the drum for this hike. I am happy to have her here after a month apart. I think she is also glad to be out of Chicago for a few days. It's really loud there.