July 30, 2012


The 28th was my birthday.  And what better way to spend it than the most complicated and exhausting camp changeover of the summer?

Most weeks, the final band concert of the session takes place on Saturday afternoon.  The kids perform, pack up their stuff, and go home with their parents, leaving us staff a blissful (mostly) chaos-free evening to relax and regather our wits.  On Sunday morning we all sleep in till brunch at 10:30 and await the new batch of campers that show up for registration around noon.  That Sunday night is always a marathon of preparing music for the following morning's rehearsals--we might be up until midnight or later making sure everything is ready--but at least we would have had the evening/morning quasi break in which to recoup some energy.

On the 28th, however, the final band/orchestra concerts happened as usual, but THEN, adult campers arrived, were checked in, and sent to rehearsal sites at 4:30 expecting music, chairs, stands, percussion equipment to be there waiting for them.  The orchestra concert ran long, so the latter 3 items were still in transit when the first rehearsals were supposed to start (the equipment managers have the least downtime of anyone here).  After we got a start tearing down orchestra music, I had to run straight over to Rindt Hall with my crate of music for advanced band.  And of course, because many adult campers don't register till the day they come, there were a bunch of additional folders to be made, large-print copies to be provided, and non-standard instruments to be taken care of...I got a LOT of exercise running back and forth filling specialized orders right up until the final notes of the rehearsal sounded.

No downtime here!

Fortunately, after all the madness from the condensed changeover had subsided (around 8:00 that evening), I had the freedom to load up my little ipod shuffle (thanks Patrick:) with music, and take a restful stroll over to the peace gardens.

For a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that I did my final NU bibliography project on "sound art" (a provocative, philosopically challenging, and utterly fascinating topic), I have been dipping my toe into the "ambient music" genre.  By "ambient music" I do not mean the insipid, formulaic, dumbed-down grocery store/elevator music that might initially come to mind for you, but rather, serious compositions that explore (either musically or even just sonically) what can be done with sound in how it relates to space, and which employs a slow--often minimalistic--approach to how it evolves over long stretches of time.

When I go back and read that last sentence, my eyes roll.  It's vague pretension stems from the defensive stance I feel the need to assume when admitting I enjoy an oft-ridiculed and hugely misunderstood genre.  I'll stop apologizing for my taste and just give you a list of the specific selections I included on my playlist that evening:

Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works vol. II 
Brian Eno: Ambient 4: On Land
Vangelis: Alpha (not really in the same class as these others, but instead just one of my favorite--of the non-orchestral--selections from the Cosmos soundtrack)
John Cage: In a Landscape  

While indulging in this unconventional soundtrack (and drenched in bug-spray) I wandered up the road to the gardens--my steps keeping time with occasional rhythmic interludes, and my knotted attentions expanding into the surrounding woods.  It occurred to me that I should probably be enjoying the natural turtle-mountain soundscape instead of plugging myself in to an artificial experience.  From time to time I took out my earbuds and paused to listen to the whir of many dozens of dragonfly wings, bird calls echoing across the distance, and the hush of air rustling through the trees.

When I reached the road's final ascending bend into the garden proper, I got a whiff of fresh-cut hay.  Fields of wildflowers had been mowed into giant cylindrical bales.  They lay scattered over the rolling terrain and offset the geometry of the emerging peace towers to lend an air of surreality to the landscape.

With my mind under the influence of hypnotic soundscapes, my imagination came to life.  My senses seemed simultaneously heightened and dulled, and--lit by the glow of the setting sun--my ascent to the towers transformed and prolonged itself.  I felt as though I were living a dream of ancient childhood.  The age and space of things seemed tangible and I was reminded of similarly transcendent impressions I'd had while hiking alone in the mountains and deserts of Utah.

The sun was setting...

The loons were calling...

And I was definitely tripping!

No drugs required.

I know I sound a little over-the-top here, but I love moments like these.  Illusory or not, they feel eternal and deep.  I feel connected to the land.  I am lonely while blissfully solitary, simultaneously yearning and sated.  My spirit airs out like sheets on a clothesline.

With the sun firmly beyond the horizon I figured I should probably make my way back to camp.  

In the diminishing light Brian Eno's "On Land" sounded more sinister...a good imagination can take the mind in so many directions! A deer bounded across the road in front of me.  Bats soon joined the patrolling dragonflies for a feast of swarming mosquitos (thank GOODNESS my bug spray still seemed to be working!)

No comments:

Post a Comment