Soundscape NYC: Ft. Tryon Park

September 18, 2008

Soundscape (n): Composer R. Murray Schafer’s rather pretentious word for your sound environment.  Much used and abused in ethnomusicology.

Despite the snark in the above definition, I find “soundscape” to be a useful term, particularly when I go on walks in my neighborhood and pretty much always end up wishing that I’d brought along a tape recorder, just to preserve the awesomeness of what I hear.   I know that’s been done before in the world of pretentious avant garde music, and I don’t mean that I’d then put what I hear into some crap sound collage.  No, I just want to write it down to remember it.

Yesterday’s walk produced a prime example of the kind of thing I love.  While entering Fort Tryon Park, I heard a guy practicing an accordion near the playground.  That’s not all that unusual.  In fact, it’s kind of to be expected.

When I came back around from my giant, 3-mile loop that takes me around and doubles back and all that, I heard something strange and wonderful.  The accordion was now joined by two saxophones, and another accordionist.  And I could not tell what the hell they were doing.

That is a strange occurrence for me.  I can usually tell what kind of musical language people are speaking to each other.  In this case, it sounded for all the world like two avant garde musicians from The Kitchen had joined up with a pair of Norteno accordionists and were trading licks.  But, at the same time, it sounded like those licks were not quite being translated so much as misunderstood, transforming what could be a musical language into a cacaphony of polyphony, musical lines swooping in near imitation, cascading and clashing and not quite ever making sense together.

Anyway, this is not a post on popular music, but it’s pretty much all I’ve been able to think about musically since my walk yesterday.  I really want to know the back story for what I heard, whether it was just a bunch of dudes warming up, whether they knew each other, or whether it was some chance meeting.  But part of me relishes the mystery of finding a situation that I do not understand musically, of stumbling across something that makes me think about it a day later.

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2 Responses to “Soundscape NYC: Ft. Tryon Park”

  1. Michelle said

    Your post reminded me of the subway musicians I used to encounter when I was commuting to/from New York from Connecticut. There was an older gentleman, a violinist, who played in Grand Central at the bottom of the ramp leading to the 7 line. One day, the violinist was gone and a trombonist was playing on the ramp. I got worried and wondered what happened to the violinist.

    A few days later, the two of them were there, the violinist in his spot at the bottom of the ramp and the trombonist at the top of the ramp. Then, it was just the violinist again.

    Wonder whether they had a play-off for rights to the turf.

  2. Or maybe…the lines between dimensions were particularly thin that day, and the accordions were the same accordion in different worlds, reaching out to try and communicate – almost making it – as twin saxophones tried to join in…before it all snapped back into place…and was lost…

    Sorry…my what-if gene is in charge way too often…

    -DNW
    Macabre Ink

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