Portland’s innovative Third Angle New Music ensemble is engaging local artists in the composing and recording of soundwalks that can be downloaded for free and enjoyed by listeners wanting to escape their pandemic isolation with a guided stroll in one of the city’s many parks.
The first listening experience, Overlay, is now available from 3A’s Soundwalk Series website. New walks will be released on the 15th of each month through August. A cadre of outstanding artists has been lined up to compose an exciting collection of soundscape adventures for walkers including: Darrell Grant, Branic Howard, Crystal Quartez, Julie Hammond, Yuan-Chen Li, Amenta Abioto, Loren Chasse, Sarah Tiedemann, and Andy Akiho.
Each walk includes an audio file, route map, and program description. One needs only a pair of earbuds or headphones, an audio player, a comfortable pair of shoes, and weather appropriate clothing to participate. The walks begin in a Portland park of the composer’s choice. In some instances the walk may include a nearby neighborhood stroll to provide a broader context.
Overlay, by sound artist Branic Howard and writer Gabi Lewton-Leopold, is the current 3A soundwalk offering. Howard describes Overlay as “a collective memory soundwalk” through Mt. Tabor Park, a forest-covered extinct volcanic cinder cone in southeast Portland.
The one hour narrative provides an immersive soundscape in which the listener hears the voice and footsteps of a guide as she directs the walker along the park’s trails. Occasionally she encounters other visitors who share remembrances of experiences they have had at Mt. Tabor. For example there is a widowed mother who, while walking in the park with her daughter, heard the unique ringtone selection of her deceased husband’s cell phone. The mother recalls that they both gasped, jumped, and turned around only to see a woman answering her phone. Though they had been startled they both felt that for a brief moment at least the husband, who had recently passed, had in some way been with them.
Another woman recalls that, while being momentarily distracted, she had failed to set the brakes on her baby stroller and it had begun to roll and then tumble down a hill. Taking chase, she caught up with it just as it tipped over into a row of blackberry bushes. Fortunately, the child had only a small scratch and a facial expression that seemed to say “WTF! What did you just do to me!” Other remembrances by park visitors are heard throughout the walk.
The soundwalk concept is associated with the acoustic-ecology and aural activism movement in the 1970’s founded by Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer. Schafer’s colleague, Hildegard Westerkamp, defines a traditional soundwalk as “any excursion whose main purpose is listening to the environment. It is exposing our ears to every sound around us no matter where we are.”
For artists, like those participating in the 3A project, the soundwalk provides the opportunity to share with individual listeners an artistically inspired interpretation of a specific place through the use of narrative, sound design, and various musical forms. One might think of such listening experiences as soundart walks.
The next walk begins on December 15th and will feature the work of composer Yuan-Chen Li, who will take the listener downtown to Tanner Springs Park in NW Portland. There, unlike at Mt. Tabor, one finds a small wetland oasis set amongst the urban soundscape of trains, river traffic, busy streets, and trams, all physically constrained by the high rise residential buildings of the Pearl District. Her Sonic Sedimentation will be a 40-50 minute promenade that the 3A website suggests “brings the participants to understand the turbulent sound of traffic activity, the harmony of singing water and raindrops, ending in the joyful discovery and exploration of one’s inner space interacting with different materials built for the park.”
Third Angle New Music’s mission is to “perform and record the masterworks of the 21st Century while commissioning new works from regionally and nationally recognized composers.” The Soundwalk project is generously supported by The Reser Family Foundation and the Oregon Cultural Trust and is a collaborative project with the Portland Parks and Recreation Department.
Gary Ferrington is a Senior Instructor Emeritus, Instructional Systems Technology, College of Education, University of Oregon and former Secretary of the World Forum for Acoustic Ecology. He is an advocate for new music and serves as project coordinator for Oregon ComposersWatch.
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