Thursday September 1, 2016
Merrimack Canal, Lowell MA
I originally proposed a John Cage score based on sound samples collected at random locations in downtown Lowell. Cage’s score includes periods of silence, not suitable for the site. I stuck with idea of gathering sound samples and switched to a time-based score.
You can listen here.
I collected sound samples from in and around the Merrimack River and the downtown canals. I selected these eleven samples –
Sample 01 – Lawrence Mills HVAC Unit on Riverwalk
Sample 02 – under the Aiken Street Bridge
Sample 03 – Lower Locks
Sample 04 – birds along Eastern Canal
Sample 05 – Lower Locks
Sample 06 – outside Market St parking garage
Sample 07 – Swamp Locks
Sample 08 – Swamp Locks
Sample 09 – trolley stop at Swamp Locks
Sample 10 – another HVAC unit on Western Canal
Sample 11 – birds along Western Canal
Listening to the samples, in order, I realized that they represent not just locations on the ground but over time. That is, they occur as separate events over a longer time frame, the life of the canals.
I needed a constant presence to represent that time period. Coincidentally, I was part of A Midsummer Night’s Drone, produced by Edward Sears Read at The Hearing Room. I took the first 45min of the recording as my underlying sound track. For me, it represents the both the historical presence of the canal system as well as it’s geographical presence in the daily life of downtown Lowell.
Back to the timeline, a couple of years ago I recorded the pile driver working along the Hamilton Canal. Its sound amplified and modulated by the Appleton Mills complex.
Sample 21 – pile driver along Hamilton Canal
Sample 22 – pile driver along Hamilton Canal
Sample 23 – pile driver along Hamilton Canal
The pile driver samples represent the building of the canals, their original use to power the mills, and finally, the rebuilding of the canal system.
I have sounds representing the canal system as a physical presence and over time. Listening the samples over the backing track, I realized that was missing, at least, two additional elements, the water and people. By water i don’t just mean the ‘sound’ of the water itself but the sounds of the canals themselves, the birds, the trees, the patterns of light produced on the water’s surface and along the banks of the canals. By people I mean existing and potential activity along the canal walkways. The sounds of people in the small parks. And, historically, the network of streets, roads and sidewalks that overlay the canals. The counterpoint between movement patterns along the canals themselves and over them on the various streets that have displaced, in a sense, the canals themselves.
Back to the timeline, I had recorded some car radio samples, that I could use to represent both people and, over top the canal samples, the newer system of movement that is now downtown Lowell.
Sample 31 – car radio, almost music with a strong industrial undertone
Sample 32 – car radio, more daily life, skipping from conversation to conversation
Sample 33 – car radio, more daily life
Sample 34 – car radio, atmospheric and spatial, resolves nicely
Sample 35 – car radio, a tune and gps navigation
How to represent the ‘sound’ of the canals within the totality of the city? I decided to include a recent recording made using my AVSynth, a modular synthesizer that i’m developing.
To put it all together, I place Samples 1-11, in order, over the electronics and drone tracks. In the process I ‘bowtie’ the samples and repeat the loops until I have approximately 2min duration for each sample. I have a total of 11 x 2min = 22min of samples, that is 50% of the total time. I also boosted the treble for these samples, to bring them forward in the mix.
I add Samples 21-23, the pile driver, ‘book ending’ the timeline. I put the first two samples at the beginning of the track to represent both building the canals and the early hydro-powered mills of the American Industrial Revolution. The third sample I put close the end end of the timeline as an ‘echo’ of the initial sounds of industry, now in the past, and to represent the rebuilding of the canal system. After placing the pile driver samples, I slide the original 11 samples right, a little further along the timeline. This allows for a slower, simpler intro and a more complex conclusion.
I add Samples 31-35, the car radio samples, equally spaced on the existing tracks. After listening, I swap the last two samples in order to more effectively resolve the piece.
Here is final timeline –
00:00 – start electronics and drone backing tracks
01:30 – start Sample 21, pile driver
02:00 – start Sample 01, Lawrence Mills HVAC Unit on Riverwalk
03:00 – end Sample 21
04:00 – end Sample 01
05:00 – start Sample 22, pile driver
05:45 – start Sample 02, under the Aiken Street Bridge
06:45 – end Sample 22
08:15 – end Sample 02
09:30 – start Sample 03, Lower Locks
09:45 – start Sample 31, car radio, almost music with a strong industrial undertone
12:15 – end Sample 31
12:30 – end Sample 03
14:00 – start Sample 04, birds along Eastern Canal
16:00 – end Sample 04
18:00 – start Sample 05, Lower Locks
20:00 – end Sample 05
21:15 – start Sample 32, car radio, more daily life, skipping from conversation to conversation
22:00 – start Sample 06, outside Market St parking garage
23:45 – end Sample 32
24:00 – end Sample 06
26:00 – start Sample 07, Swamp Locks
28:00 – end Sample 07
30:00 – start Sample 08, Swamp Locks
32:00 – end Sample 08
32:30 – start Sample 33, car radio, more daily life
33:45 – start Sample 09, trolley stop at Swamp Locks
36:15 – end Sample 09
37:30 – start Sample 35, car radio, a tune and gps navigation
38:00 – start Sample 10, another HVAC unit on Western Canal
38:30 – end Sample 35
40:00 – end Sample 10
42:00 – start Sample 11, birds along Western Canal
44:00 – end Sample 11
– start Sample 34, car radio, atmospheric and spatial, resolves nicely
45:00 – end Sample 34
– end electronics and drone backing tracks
Finally, I tweak the mix. The electronics track is a little dry, I add a small amount of reverb and do some volume editing. I fix glitches in the sample loops, remove clicks from the drone track. Done !!!
You can listen here.
Rick Breault – drone
Joe Brown – drone
Michael F Dailey Jr – in car vocals
Stephanie Marie Germaine – in car vocals, radio
Bill T Miller – drone
Edward Sears Read – drone
Walter Wright – drone, field recordings, AVSynth
The Hearing Room
Lowell Heritage Partnership