Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Song Path at North Park Village Nature Center in Chicago

After several years of silence (or I should say, of making noise rather than just listening to it) I have been given the opportunity to create a Song Path for the North Park Village Nature Center in Chicago's north west side as a part of the Chicago Park District's Night Out in the Parks initiative. I have been attempting to do a listing hike in Chicago and Illinois in general, but my activities as a composer, sound designer, and engineer have been keeping me very busy the last few years including engagements with John Luther Adams (an inspiration of mine), several shows where we used the J. Pritzker Pavilion in downtown Chicago to mix works such as Steve Reich's Music for 18 musicians, and Varese's Poem Electronique with International Contemporary Ensemble as well as a new work for String Quartet written especially for the surround sound setting in the space. Oh, and I have also been doing lots of work in dance and theater in an ongoing collaboration with Erica Mott on new dance works like the Victory Project and the Cowboys and Vikings project where we actually had to go to Iceland (bummer right?) and record the sounds of volcanoes and bubbling mud as well as hear the utter silence of the place in order to create a sonic landscape that has a sense of the vastness of the land though the audience is in a small performance space. Oh, and also, I have for the last 2 years been working on an Opera with this same collaboration including vocalist and composer Fides Krucker and video artist John Boesche. A work I am still in the middle of composing, though taking an ever so slight break, cleaning my ears to do a little bit of deep listening. But enough about what I have been doing between blog posts other than to say after a 3 year hiatus, I will be continuing the tradition of posting a blog for each hike as well as some information about my experiences in the park in advance. So it begins here. North Park Village Nature Center is a small natural preserve area surrounded by a larger Chicago Park District space and bordering Peterson Park. Two very busy Chicago roadways, Peterson Ave and Pulaski Ave, border it on the North and West respectively and it is in the direct flight path of O-Hare International Airport. Likely you have seen it if you have ever flown into Chicago from the east coast. Does not exactly sound like the most tranquil place for a sound hike, and admittedly, it is a very different experience than the hikes that took place 3 years ago in the Minnesota State Parks. But it IS very interesting. You drive into the park (unless you choose to get there via the train and bus or a bike) via Pulaksi from the west side and empty out into a small cul da sac where a parking lot awaits on the right had side. There is a small picnic area with large buildings off to the right, (one being a former sanatorium) a man made pond with paths surrounding it to the north, and to the west, a small log cabin. This is the nature center itself. You go through a gate in a fenced off area (and they keep the fence closed to keep an over population of deer out) and enter an area behind the nature center where there are picnic tables and other areas for kids to engage in nature activities. Then you start to walk into the preserve itself. Though the din of traffic in the distance does not ever quite subside, you are definitely in a place that feels removed from the surroundings and at times, almost feel like you could be in the deep woods. The staff at the Nature Center have managed to maintain a robust enough level of wildlife and diversity of plant life to support it that the din of the city is often overtaken by the din of the natural surroundings. Considering the noise levels I experienced on a quick visit to Chicago during my stay in Minnesota 3 years ago, this is no small feat. But even at that, the roar of planes overhead is relentless. It both at times swallows the sonic space, but also stimulates a reaction from birds, insects, and other animals. So while it is a regular interruption of the tranquility of the space, it also leaves a tail of sound behind it as the animals send distress signals as they would if they were in the deep woods and there was a sense of impending danger. It is present at all moments. So while the challenge of the hikes in Minnesota was mostly to find subtle hidden sonic characteristics in the park and try to bring them out (like the stone cutting shed at Banning or the sonic "view" from inspiration point at Whitewater instigated by the presence of large drums) the challenge in this location will be to discover those places of tranquility or silence, or at least the spaces where the sound of nature actually drowns out the sound of our man made landscape. I am spending the next few days investigating the subtle details of the space and finalizing the hikes trajectory. If you come, I hope you take away a greater appreciation for what is possible even in a crowded urban environment, and also hope that we can experience the space together as a piece of music that has the same tension, release, ecstatic moments, and sense of repose as any other piece of music. After all, that is really why I am doing all of this. Hope to see you there! Saturday August 16th 10 AM and 2 PM Sunday August 17th at Noon We will meet at the picnic area just adjacent to the nature center. Call ahead to make a reservation. 312-744-5472.