Archive for September, 2009

Miracle on 42nd Street

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Manhattan Soundscape

Here is a view of Lower Manhattan as seen from the ferry as a boat-load of us returned from the fabulous Gadgetoff ’09 convention. The night-time skyline as seen from the harbor was incredibly peaceful somehow.

With the boat’s diesel engines drowning out the distant din of the city, I realized that  there was without a doubt a whole encyclopedia of soundscapes contained in this scene! Sound is a funny thing – especially on a Friday night in NYC on a warm, early autumn evening, one can only imagine the extent of these varied and collective urban sounds.

Disembarking from the boat within walking distance of the Port Authority near 42nd Street, the first of two ‘miracles’ was having a local New Yorker from the convention lead me to the nearest Starbucks. After three days on Staten Island with its propensity for Dunkin Donuts and White Castle locations, this was a real treat!

The second ‘miracle’ on 42nd street was that I actually got the last bus ticket out of NYC to make it back to Toronto in time to meet with my Saturday flute students at the Royal Conservatory!

Sounds, like smells, can be an indelible stimulus where memory is concerned, yet fleeting and somehow ephemeral. Taking in the sights and sounds of the city as I walked along to catch my bus, I was reminded of  Scents and the City, a recent article in the New York Times that humorously described a catalogue of Manhattan smells: an olfactory guide to the Big Apple!

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Pictured above is the Port Authority entranceway where I recorded this mp3 and I hope you enjoy this sonic glimpse of a New York streetscape. I would have played flute a bit, but as it was I barely made my bus. For some awesome beatbox flute playing, check out New York’s Greg Pattillo and Robert Dick. And below is a clearer image of the NYC skyline as viewed from the harbour at night.

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NOTE: If you look carefully at the first of these three images, you will see the head and face of King Kong in the upper right of the photo…still haunting the Empire State Building it would seem!!

Ongniaahra: ‘Thunder of Waters’

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Thunder of Waters

Clambering about the Escher-inspired wooden platforms of the Cave of the Winds, the overwhelming din of the American Falls all but drowned out these sounds of tourists at the base of the impressive cataract. I had elected to play my First Nations North American flute for a reason – read more here about the early history and oft-times turbulent clash of cultures in the area. On both sides of the border, descriptive plaques bear testimony to this not-so-distant and turbulent history.

There are currently 39 records of variations of the name for the Region in which this landscape feature occurs, including: Ongniaahra, Onguiaahra, Unghiara and Oniagara. However, it is thought to be of Iroquoian or Neutral Indian origin. There are also various interpretations of the word such as “thunder of waters”, or “resounding with great noise.” Most significant is Indian occupants of the peninsula from about 1550 onwards, when subsistence agricultural villages were established. These were generally located on light-textured sandy soils, including at St. David’s with its ossuary and above the escarpment at Thorold. Sites were probably shifted every 20 years through soil depletion, fuel exhaustion, and sanitary considerations. Some communities were large, covering up to twelve acres and perhaps accomodating up to 2000 persons. They belonged to the Neutral Indians, who were destroyed and assimilated by the Iroquois shortly after 1650.

Cave of the Winds, New York

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Cave of the Winds Improv

Located in America’s oldest state park, the intriguing-sounding Cave of the Winds does not disappoint! For years now I’ve been hankering to play in the Niagara Falls tunnels directly under the Canadian side of the Horseshoe Falls. Yesterday I finally had my chance to realize this obsessive dream, albeit from the American side of the gorge!

Having presented my lecture ‘Examination Slam-Dunk’ for local music teachers and members of the Niagara Falls Branch of ORMTA first thing in the day, I found I had a free afternoon on my hands. So I decided to play tourist and headed straight for the Rainbow Bridge with its border crossing to the U.S.A. Despite recent beefed-up security measures, the friendly U.S. border guard kindly let me in sans passport, allowing my driver’s license to suffice: sweet!

The American side of the falls has retained much more of its natural setting and really blew me away – but not as much as the gale-force winds from the rickety wooden platforms that are part of the Cave of the Winds adventure! If you’ve never been to Goat Island wit its wooded parkland and spectacular vistas, take it from this old goat: you don’t know what you’re missing!

A long tunnel presented 18 storeys down through the escarpment where the acoustics were phenomenal, especially when you consider the 100+ year history of the place – a space that had been hewn by hand back in the 1820’s. After this short improv on my cedar native North American flute, I emerged from the far end of the tunnel to discover this view overlooking the majestic Niagara River towards the awe-inspiring Horeshoe Falls.

Minutes later I would find myself totally soaked by the unpredictable winds of the water of the American Falls thundering nearby!

Busted in the Crystal Ballroom

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Duo for Cello and Walkie-Talkie

On the occasion of the last full moon, the haunted Crystal ballroom beckoned the brave of heart. As described in Classical Music Rave, a number of us returned after-hours to this evocative for another rather renegade music-adventure.The basic idea had been to increase the ensemble one player at a time and return to the same venue until we got busted. Sounds like a plan, right? We even had visions of eventually having a chamber orchestra in formal attire, perhaps even some ballroom dancing in the darkness. I guess we’re looking for a new venue now!

As we set up to play and took turns sounding the magical acoustics in the shadows of the massive space, we were once again a little on edge in case we might be interrupted. Max played some Bach on his violin, and, his first time in the space, was blown away by the incredible acoustics: Bach suddenly made a new kind of sense! I followed suit by playing a couple of movements from Bach’s cello Suites arranged for solo flute, and was equally delighted by how the notes melded together and the harmonies took on a liquid, fresh quality.

Next was Lucas taking a turn with selections from the same Suites before we perhaps settled into some duos and trios. Or at least that was the plan. Little did we know what was about to unfold!

As the wonderfully rich, full tone of the cello filled the space, I spotted the beam of a flashlight at the far end of the ballroom, up in the darkened balcony: busted! Some quick thinking on my part, and I realized that we had a few minutes to play with, so I encouraged Lucas to keep playing as I headed off to intercept the security guard who was likely making his way down to have a little chat with us.

The resulting soundfile is intriguing on a number of levels, not the least of which is the amazing sound of Lucas’ playing. Of particular note is the way that the sound of the music plays in counterpoint to the walkie-talkie of our intrepid security guard as he radios for back-up support! “We have a situation in the ballroom!” you can almost hear him say. Note: The evening wasn’t over for us yet, as we were determined to play through some Bach and Quantz trios, preferably not in a jail cell!

On a more serious note, urban explorers beware: today’s front page story in the Toronto papers about a ghost-hunter falling to her death off of one University of Toronto’s historic buildings late last night is enough to give anyone pause. Sincere condolences to family and friends of Leah Kubik in this unfortunate and tragic mishap.

Oops, I inserted the wrong soundfile at first, so here is as a musical epilogue to our recent Crystal Ballroom adventure, and thanks once again to everyone who attended!

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Quantz Trio Sonata (Allegro) This is the sound of the full trio reading through the music of Quantz recently at Toronto’s historic St.Annes Church.

Best Acoustics in the World, Part 1

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Mapparium Improv 1

As I embarked on my recent trip to New England, on my short list of places that I was determined to visit there was the Poughkeepsie Bridge and then there was the incredible Mapparium in Boston. This three-storey glass globe constructed in 1935 was recommended to me for its exceptional acoustics. With clear signage that photography was strictly prohibited, this photo is courtesy of Atlas Obscura. I didn’t see any signs barring playing flute in this unique space, and the friendly tour guide graciously permitted me to play briefly on my Mary Baker Eddy-era single-keyed wooden flute and sound the playful acoustics.

 

Phosphorescent Flute, Sleepy Hollow

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Shakuhachi Improv 3

With night moving in and the batteries in my Edirol recorder dying, here are some final impressions before leaving Sleepy Hollow (see images below). Having tried valiantly to capture images of fireflies and one last image of the moon through the haunted woods of the area, I decided that I had tarried long enough in Tarrytown!

As I sped my way northwards towards Poughkeepsie, the glowing presence of the moon pursuing me at every turn of the road offered little comfort as cars in apparent great haste repeatedly pushed me past the posted 40 MPH to well beyond 60 miles per hour – the locals evidently knew the twists and turns of the shadowy two-lane highway better than as we raced along in tandem through the dark!

With a shudder I suddenly realized how Ichabod Crane must have felt as he travelled this same route, especially when a lone rider on a motorcycle appeared directly behind me from out of nowhere and pushed me even faster, his single headlamp glaring in my rearview mirror! Moments later, on a short stretch of twisting roadway where passing was all but impossible, the motorcycle went roaring past at over 80 miles per hour.

A sidelong glance of the shadowy figure as he flew past confirmed my worst fear: the rider had no helmet!

Read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow here.

Read more about Washington Irving’s Sunnyside Estate here.

As described in Irving’s strange tale, the fireflies in the woods where I had played in that shadowed glade by the brook were great in number and like none that I had ever seen before! Their phosphorescent lightshow left an indelible and magical afterimage in my imagination!

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Full Moon in Sleepy Hollow

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Shakuhachi Improv 2

Keeping up my recent tradition of unusual Full Moon Concerts, here is a second recording from the overgrown woods of Sunnyside Estate where Washington Irving passed his final years. This image features Sleepy Hollow’s famous bridge on the left and the full moon rising through the trees in the background. To read more about the colourful history of the Hudson River, here is a wonderful story by Corey Kilgannon as featured recently in the New York Times. Kilgannon decided to borrow a kayak and paddle the length of the Hudson from Manhatten Island to its headwaters, a paddle which would have taken him right along the shores of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow.

The Headless Fluteman

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Shakuhachi Improv 1

Following the Hawk’s directions I found the closed grounds of the old Washington Irving estate, just at the border of Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown, nestled on the eastern shores of the Hudson River.

With dusk settling in, you can listen for the sound of the brook in the glen and the slight echo of my shakuhachi flute bouncing off the treetrunks in this desolate wood. A small bird can be heard keeping me company.

Afterwards I was trying to figure out why I had selected to play the Shakuhachi – I knew there was a reason besides the fact that I had just had my first official lesson with a Shakuhachi Grand Master in the Boston area the previous evening.

Suddenly it came to me in a flash: the Komuso Zen Monks of ancient Japan who wandered the countryside playing flute for alms (and spying for the ruling Samurai) were thought to be Priests of Nothingness. These musicians wore straw baskets on their heads to maintain their anonymity, which perhaps could be equated with the menacing headless horseman who, many moons ago and in the dead of night, threw his hollow pumpkin head at the terrified Ichabod Crane as those two raced along the nearby roadway!

Moose Calls on the Mid-Hudson

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Flute Moose Calls

Well, I had vowed to myself that I would get my New England stories out by the end of summer, and here it is September already – I don’t know about you, but I’m still in denial and convinced it’s still August!

While in Brattleboro, someone tipped me off that if I was heading all the way to Poughkeepsie, NY, that I should just carry on a little further south along the Hudson River to check out Sleepy Hollow. I was immediately intrigued, what with spooky tale of the Headless Horseman, and I have to admit that I didn’t even know that there was a town by that name.

Watching the vegetation close in me around me in the late afternoon as I drove into the area, I decided to do a U-turn and pulled into a gas station to tank up and maybe get directions to the famous bridge. Hawk, pictured, filled me in with info and directions for how to find the Washington Irving estate. Having spotted my Canadian license plates, he and I got talking about moose hunting from when he owned a lodge up in northern Ontario.Turns out, as luck would have it, that unbeknownst to me I had just passed over the famous bridge which was in plain view and barely a pumpkin’s throw back up the 2-lane highway!

This recording catches some of our conversation as I demonstrate my ability to produce a convincing moose call on the the tube of my flute, which clearly meets with Hawk’s approval! Not the first time there have been moose wander through the Urban Flute Project site, it is incredible to think that these giant herbivores once populated this area of the Hudson River where now there is a gas station and the nearby bridge which provided the setting for the headless horseman on his wild ride chasing poor old Ichabod Crane!

More spooky Sleepy Hollow stories on the way…

Duo for Flute & Weed Whacker

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Penny Lane

Here is the the view from the back deck of where I was house-sitting for a bass player and his family (who I had only just recently met on Twitter!) near Poughkeepsie before visiting the Musical Bridge described in the previous post. As soon as I heard a lawnmower fire up, I new there was a unique recording opportunity in the making akin to my duos for flute with jackhammerjet plane, or pneumatic drill to name but a few.

After a lull in the sounds of lawn care and I had just retreated from the hot glare of the sun, that’s when the weed whacker started up, and I jumped at the opportunity for a second go at this 60’s classic. It was only when I gave a quick listen driving back to Massachusetts the next day that I realized how well the two sound together – it’s almost as if the weed whacker operator is following a score!

You may be wondering why I settled on more Beatles after recording Yellow Submarine in a yellow submarine. Well, after a long day of driving, when I first rolled into Walden, New York, I got some rather confusing directions from the attendant who served me a well-deserved chocolate-dip softee cone. I ended up completely at the wrong end of town on Penny Lane, not a word of a lie, right around the corner from the colourful and welcoming Tschen Kunchab Ling (Tibetan Buddhist) Temple of All-Encompassing Great Compassion, which turns out to be the centre for His Holiness the Sakya Trizin in the Unites States.

My first take of Penny Lane with  lawnmower was a bit rough as I sorted out page turns and da capos. Click on the icon below to hear my first read-through as the lawnmower sounds in the background. I felt badly for the young guy doing the lawn care, who appeared to be doing a great job taking care of several adjoined backyards. I guess it was the woman in charge – maybe his mom – who appeared at one point and berated him about something, somewhere between the lawnmower and weed whacker movements of this impromptu Petite Suite pour Flute & Lawn Care Implements!

Ah-h, the sweet sounds of summer!

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Duo for Flute & Lawnmower