Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Lake Effect, Part 1

With a good start to the song collection BOOK OF JOURNEYS II, I leave the ingredients to simmer for a while. Now I feel the urge to begin the projected sound art exploration of my relationship with New England's inland sea, Lake Champlain.
Composing music about place--"land and life," to echo once again the brilliant and original
20th Century geographer Carl Ortwin Sauer-- has been important to me for years. It has been the impetus for my SOUND MAP and LIMINAL MUSIC projects. In recent years I've been exploring the shores and waters of Lake Champlain-- on foot, in boats, and in library research.
I've written about these explorations and investigations in novels and magazine articles. But now I want to go deeper, and music runs deep for me.
Something about my recently recorded steel guitar improvisation,"Hazy Blue View", has struck a resonant place inside me. Maybe it's the proportions, the twists and turns of cadence; I hear in it a shape I've been trying to express for a long time.
I begin by slowing it down; like tape, but in the computer. Slowing recordings down changes timbre and texture and length, yet the proportions are maintained. Next, I copy the slowed-down piece a few times and work with panning and EQ changes in each copy. I move the copies in space via the panning. I also move them in time by staggering them in the multitrack recorder. I work this way until the musical view opens up, sounding less like song and more like an abstract shadow of land and water forms. This is like painting: I move the shapes, colors, and relationships until they sound and feel right to me. After a few days of working on this, I'm satisfied that I have a good start to my project. For now I give the project a working title: THE LAKE EFFECT.
One afternoon, sitting with my face to the February sun, I suddenly perceive something I've been trying to grasp for years. The perception is this: slowing down music can give a new view of its topographical shape, in much the same way that climbing a mountain offers a new perspective of the land below. And staggering layers of the same material with slight changes in time, tone, and timbre might be analogue to the elevation contours and depth readings in, respectively, terrestrial maps and navigation charts. There dances before my mind's eye-- just out of my true reach and apprehension-- an elegant algebraic formula by which sound, space, time, and tone might be expressed as true, scientific, maps in sound. For now though, I'll continue to approach this quest with the hazy, indeterminate methods and tools of art.