Saturday, January 01, 2011

Sonic obsessions, revisted (7)

I spent part of the morning of this last day of 2010 recording sounds from the San Antonio Creek, which flows down the south side of Southern California's Mt San Antonio (usually called Mt Baldy.) There's been enough rain and snowfall so far this year that the creek is full enough to get a decent roar from the falls down to the modest rapids below where white water pours over granite. This little stream is probably the body of water I know best, having lived for some time up in Baldy village as a kid and then moving down the mountain to a house on the San Bernadino/Los Angeles County line which was actually set along the old creekbed of the San Antonio which had long been diverted, first as water was drawn for citrus groves in the late 19th and early 20th century, and then, finally, as a concrete flood control channel was dug some half a mile to the East. The rivers and creeks of Southern California have been almost erased, and its almost spooky to consider that in the mid-19th century both the Los Angeles and the San Gabriel were navigable, with a ferry delivering those who arrived at the harbor of San Pedro to the City of the Angels. Stream and creeks and the faster-moving rivers are acoustically the most interesting waterways, with every obstacle — rocks and fallen trees, beaver dams etc — making fine articulations, sudden accelerandi, surprising sprites of sound. And this, too: We were at the Getty Center in Malibu a few days ago, focusing as one inevitably does, on Robert Irwin's Central Garden. Though artificial, it was the central stream which registered most for me, and registered mostly as an acoustical experience, with the shapes of the riverbed carefully composed to deliver something very special.


Charles Shere said...

This brought to mind Robert Erickson's Summer Music (1974), for solo violin and prerecorded tape. The recorded sound is of a brook; I'm sorry I don't have more specific information at hand; Erickson passed that sound through filters to accentuate certain pitches. Summer Musicis truly minimal; it contains long silences and longer sections with very few pitches. As I wrote in my biography of Erickson, “for over three minutes, at the center of teh piece, the violin plays only the pitch C in various octaves. For a minute and a half only middle C is played.” But the result, combined with the water sounds, is nostalgic and hypnotic. There is something essentially grounding, I think, to the human listener, in the sound of running water.

By the way the Irwin garden is at the West Los Angeles Getty Center, not the one in Malibu.

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