Thursday, September 16, 2010
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
Monday, September 13, 2010
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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
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
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.
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..
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.