Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Makeup Posts for Songpath at the North Park Village Nature Center and Songpath at the Hegewisch Marsh

Once again, the Chicago Park District has seen fit to invite me to re-visit the Songpath at the North Park Village Nature Center on Chicago's nouth side.  This year, they have also invited me to create a new Songpath for the Hegewisch Marsh on the far south end of Chicago.  A very great contrast to the experience at NPVNC.  Whereas NPVNC is located in a very bustling area of Chicago with a ton of traffic noise and other things happening in the park, the Hegewisch Marsh seems almost remote and out of the way.  This seems almost counter-intuitive considering that when in the center of NPVNC, one almost feels completely removed from the city whereas at the Hegewisch Marsh, the proximity of factories and a rail line that services them makes it so sound from trains and the factories themselves are very present in the park.  However, the sparse nature of these sounds, and the constancy of them, almost give them a meditative quality as if they were a part of the natural landscape rather than an interruption to it.

But before I go too far into the Hegewisch Marsh hike (Coming up August 29-30th), I wanted to address a loose end.  Those of you who keep track of this blog may have noticed the absence of individual hike blogs from last summer at NPVNC as well as those this summer.  My only excuse is that I have been extremely busy these past couple of years and the time for reflection post hike has just not been present.   Whereas in Minnesota I was living and working there for 2 months for the sole purpose of creating and leading the hikes, my life in Chicago is a bit more filled with the usual routines and I have discovered that sitting and reflecting on each hike took a significant amount of time that I failed to carve out for the hikes last summer.  So instead of individual blogs, I am going to just summerize a few things regarding both last summer's and this summers hikes.

First, a few general reflections about the space.  North Park Village Nature Center is located on the
far north west side of Chicago and borders two very busy major streets with very little on them in terms of commercial businesses, so although cars routinely drive by in large packs at rather high speeds, there is very little in the way of other city noises (like large crowds, ambient sounds of music or conversation from restaurants, etc).  This creates a regular drone surrounding the park that rises and falls with the flow of traffic and occasionally a noisy muffler or larger vehicle starting or stopping rise out of the constant din.  This sound then blends in with the general ambient bed of bug noise coming from the tall grasses and swamps of the park itself.   As the park is on a direct flight path from O'hare, on days the wind is right, the park is serenaded avery 2-3 minutes by a low flying plane that overtakes all sound in the park and then slowly dies out into the drone of cars and bugs.  That said, there are many places in the park where a sense of almost complete silence and isolation occur.  At the crossroads of the savanna trail and the main loop, or at the quite pond in the midst of the entire park, the thickness of trees almost blocks out the constant drone letting through only the occasional high pitched squeak of tires or brakes.  Then, rounding the corner onto the north side of the Main loop, the sound of traffic goes from being almost inaudible, to the major sound feature of the space. Of course, nothing stops the sound of over flying planes, but in these spots, one can almost forget where they are. In general though, the tone of the first summer's hikes is one of drones overlaying one another depending on your location, and what is happening around and above the park.  There are also many places where bird noise dominates the space such as spots along the Savanna Trail.  So in general, a very good variety of sounds.

Last summer, I created and conducted the hikes at the end of the summer.  However, this year, I chose to do the hikes earlier.  The first thing I noticed about that space during that time was the complete absence of my string section: the bugs.  But in high contrast, the birds were going wild!  Of course, the spring and early summer are mating season for birds as well as the season before the eggs hatch and tadpoles become frogs to create the bed of sound I had grown so accustomed to.  This factoid completely changed the nature of the hikes and in fact made it an extremely different piece.  Instead of the bugs being the basis of the ambient soundscape, I had to focus the hiker's attention on more distant drones of traffic.  It also made the traffic noise a bit more audible throughout the space as the prairie grass was also a bit lower so the places that had been more shielded from the noise the summer before were now harder to find (though not at all impossible).  In essence though, the hike actually seemed to have a "faster tempo" as it became more about individual "sonic events" like birds singing to one another in particular patterns, or individual traffic noises interjecting into the space.  The wind also played more of a major role as the particular kind of leaf present on the more dominant trees in certain areas of the park are quite firm and make almost a crackling sound when the touch together so the space created a really nice outline for the wind.  I noticed the audience more often noticing things like frogs, turtles, and other individual animals that would periodically make noise in the space than I had the previous summer and found that our attentions would be more often pulled out of a particular sonic space to notice a far away individual sound rather than us getting lulled into a more constant sonic space that the drone of bug and car tents to create.  Despite the differences though, both hikes were quite satisfying and successful and I hope to explore them further in the future.  Such an unusual space.

The Hegewisch Marsh is a very different story.  First of all, it is MUCH harder to get to and a bit more obscured.  When I first visited the site in the dead of winter, it seemed like it would be the perfect place for a Songpath and I was not disappointed when visiting it again in the summer despite the wildly overgrown paths (which, I should mention, the Chicago Park District has done an amazing job grooming since then).  The Hegewisch Marsh sits in the midst of the Pullman neighborhood of Chicago among a series of very large factory plants including the Ford motor plant and a cereal processing plant.  It is also adjacent to an extremely large land fill and a river lock along the Calumet river.  I think its pristine condition is ironically partly due to the fact that it is surrounded by large factories.  Nothing else can really occupy this area and there are no residential or commercial neighborhoods within a mile of the space, so in a way it is one of the most "remote" feeling locations in the city of Chicago.  The factories really do provide a kind of noise shield while themselves interjecting a very steady drone of their own into the space.  The presence of some large buildings in the distance also provides a very natural reverberation off of which some distant high pitched squeals of trains on the train tracks reflect making the whole space seem quite distant and ethereal when stimulated by such loud but distant sounds.

I have been down to Hegewisch Marsh now a number of times and have found some very consistent sonic features to it, though many of these are quite invisible to the ear unless they are invoked by some kind of sound happening in just the right place.  I don't want to give away too much about the hike, but I do believe that it is going to be a very special occasion and special event.  I also hope to have a moment to reflect on these hikes and perhaps more opportunity to reflect on the hikes at North Park Village Nature Center.  If you are in the Chicago area (or even northern Indiana or Western Michigan) you should try to come out.

The Hikes are taking place August 29th at 11 am and 2 pm and on the 30th at noon.
Hegewisch Marsh is at 13000 S Torrence on Chicago's South Side
You can make a reservations by sending an email to Samantha.Chavis@chicagoparkdistrict.com

Hope to see you there!

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.

Friday, December 23, 2011

New Songpath Scores

Do Songpath on your own!

After finishing each hike along the trails two summers ago, the most common comment I got was that we the hikers were excited about the ability to do such hikes by themselves now. I got to thinking that it would be a good idea to create some kind of score or list of instructions to go along with the hikes.

These three scores for Banning, Whitewater, and Gooseberry Falls guide you down the songpath with specific instructions. Feel free to follow the instructions precisely or add your own variations and you listen along the path. It will make any hike in these three parks a more enjoyable and memorable experience.

Whitewater Songpath

Banning Songpath

Gooseberry Falls Songpath

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.