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Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Sunday, February 06, 2005

AMBIENT SOUND

Got back today from our annual snow week-end at Mount Rainier in a lodge with a big group of people. My beloved spouse has been going on this trip for 20 years now, me for the last 7 of them. The excuse for the trip is cross-country skiing, which I’m quite bad at; since our son arrived we haven’t skied but instead snow-shoed, which I prefer anyway -- but that’s not even why I look forward to it. Really nice people, middle-aging long-hair folkies (like my wife and me), good food, good talk, music.

The guys break out the guitars on Friday and Saturday nights. I’m a terrible sing-along guitarist because I’ve never learned very many songs but have instead sat my thousands of hours with the guitar either noodling & doodling & practicing or writing my own songs. The songs by others that I do know tend to be ones nobody else in the room knows very well anyway. It’s an unsociable guitar practice, and I used to berate myself for it and vow to change, but I’ve learned to accept that I probably won't change, and I’m happy to follow along as others play and sing, and improvise the occasional solo, or play harmonica.

I didn’t sleep nearly enough last week, so before too long in Friday night’s jam I lay on the couch and listened. While the guys play and sing, the women mostly talk. Lying on the couch, listening to the 3 and 4 guitars slightly out-of-sync, shtrumming through folk-rock repertoire rich in open major chords -- the beautiful shimmer of the sweet, sweet acoustic guitars, and the lovely murmur of friends talking -- so, so lovely.

This morning, packing up the lodge, doing dishes, the bang bang bang of the dishes and the talk as people pack, while a tinny “boom”box plays a live tape of the Grateful Dead, a thin trebly distorted sound -- that was a lovely ambient mix too, in a bracing, get-a-move-on-it’s-time-to-go way.

Saturday night after we stopped playing, Ed, a fine guitarist, complimented a groove that Eric and I had gotten into as the last two guitarists playing. On our last number, Eric had improvised tasty polyrhythmic patterns over a three-chord progression of one of my songs, and we went on and on. I mentioned just how lovely acoustic guitars are, and Ed said he’d put his head in a guitar and listen while someone played if he could, he loves the sound so much.

Steven Feld has made gorgeous recordings of the Bosavi people of Papua New Guinea, of songs people sing while going about their days. The recordings include the ambient sounds of the rainforest. Numerous CDs now exist of threatened human and natural soundscapes. Seattle composer Christopher DeLaurenti recorded many, many hours of the November 30, 1999, Seattle march against the anti-democratic, anti-environmental World Trade Organization and edited it to a wild, beautiful hour-long piece. (He also wrote, very movingly, and at length, about the experience of doing the recording.)

Back in 1985 I recorded a harmonica solo in an empty country field at 2 o’clock one summer morning, in a duet with a field of crickets. Not a document of my everyday life; not a momentous, dramatic, historic event; but real sounds I loved. Next winter, for the ski trip, if I get it together maybe I’ll record the shimmering guitars and murmuring conversations of the nighttime lodge gathering. And maybe the morning dishwashing too.


Comments:
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