2017 American Ascent Trip
American Ascent: June Update
This is the first in a series of updates from my travels in the US and Canada. It's now been a month since I've left Australian shores, and I’m about to depart for my next leg in Denali National Park in Alaska. There’s been a whirlwind of activity that’s kept me on my toes, and I’ll try my best to sum up what’s been going on:
I started off in San Francisco and the Bay Area, staying in a hostel in Fort Mason (June 9-12), to the west of Fisherman's Wharf, and with views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Over the next few days, acclimatising to the new environment and overcoming latent jet lag, I visited a number of typically touristy sites, including the Mission District and Mission Dolores Park, Fisherman's Wharf, the Cort Tower, and the Golden Gate Bridge (cycling across it to the town of Sausalito).
1) the famous Golden Gate Bridge; 2) a (com)poser at Mission Dolores Park
Next (Jun 12-15), I went to stay in Emeryville with a wonderful host from Couchsurfing.com, Jerry. Whilst I was in the area, I managed to visit a number of places, including the Oakland Museum (with exhibitions on notable photographer Dorothea Lange and artist Roy De Forest), the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (with exhibitions on Tibetan Buddhist Art, and notable photographer Sam Contis and conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner and a house concert on works in just-intonation (including the hour-long Six Primes) by East Bay composer Chris Brown. On my final night, Jerry very generously took me around Treasure Island, and on to the famous Castro District for dinner.
I also had the wonderful opportunity to meet with Charles Amirkhanian, director of the contemporary music organisation, Other Minds. We initially met at a concert as part of their The Nature of Music series, featuring composer Marielle K. Jakobson (whose works with cymatics are quite entrancing - check out her music video White Sparks), and later met up in the OM offices in downtown Berkeley, discussing many inter-Pacific connections and musics.
Following this, I moved back to the city, beginning my time with composer, sound artist and instrument builder, Cheryl Leonard (June 15-19). Having learned about Cheryl’s work through my research in the environmental music and sound art scene (particularly the book Environmental Sound Artists), it was great to spend time discussing each other’s work, and discovering more about instrument construction: Cheryl builds many instruments from natural materials, and performs on them live, amplified through contact microphones. We also visited the Mare Island Shoreline Heritage Preserve (a former military base, first attending a concert and later exploring and recording in bunkers dotted around the island’s hiking paths) and the Sutro Baths and nearby sea tunnels.
1) with Cheryl in her studio; 2) recording in the Mare Island bunkers
My next stop (June 19-26) with composer Brenda Hutchinson, whose creative process which aims at interacting with the public and non-artists through personal, reciprocal engagement with listening and sounding (linking in with my own community-oriented projects). One of her ongoing projects, dailybell, is dedicated to the observation (through ringing of bells) of the sun each time it crosses the horizon and to sharing that moment with others. I was fortunate to be invited to document the celebration of the Summer Solstice dailybell ringing at the Garden of Memory Concert held at the Oakland Chapel of the Chimes. (video below). Over the following few days, we went out to various places around the Bay Area, including Marin Headlands (with a visit to the Headlands Centre for the Arts) and the San Francisco Exploratorium (a phenomenal science-artsinvestigator centre), where I happened up a Kronos Quartet rehearsal!
1) lattes and cinnamon toast with Brenda, a much-valued daily ritual for us both! ; 2) unplanned: seeing Kronos Quartet in quartet!
During my last weekend in SF (June 24-25), I went along to San Francisco Pride, which was a deeply nourishing and impacting time for me as a bisexual, queer-identifying young person. The parade, featuring over 250 contingents, was focussed on the theme of diversity and was led by many resistance groups calling for equal rights for queer peoples and other minority groups alike (all the more pertinent with threats at the federal government level). Many local community organisation and Silicon Valley tech companies also marched, and I had to eventually leave the Parade (which I’d spent 3 ½ hours at from the grandstands, which floats coming from the end of Market street) to make for the celebrations in Civic Centre. With my largest community event to date being Adelaide Feast Festival, it was incredibly heartening and uplifting to the city of San Francisco come together in the championing and celebration of LGBTIQA+ people and their rights, and I’ll definitely remember this day for a long time to come.
The following day (26 June), after some challenges with my hire car collection, I left San Francisco to begin my travels up the US West Coast. With a few hours lost already lost, my first day on the road saw me make a token trip to Muir Woods (my first experience of redwoods) before heading onto my next CS host, Jay, in Fort Bragg on the coastline.
After exploring the nearby Glass Beach (famous for its smoothed glass shards lining the shore, and abalone fishing) and other beaches the following day (27 June), I made my way up the coast further to the Redwoods forests, recording in the Avenue of the Giants, before heading on further to the university town of Arcata in Humboldt county to stay with my next host, Kyle. That evening, we went to the local Ma-le’l Dunes, and watched the sun set into the Pacific Ocean.
1) Avenue of the Giants; 2) sunset at Ma-le’l Dunes
The next morning (June 28), I went to record in the nearby Arcata Community Forest (extensively populated with redwoods), and then made my way into rural south Oregon, where I was somewhat disoriented with the significant environmental changes (both natural and political, with a more arid landscape and a number of Trump-Pence signs still about). That night, I stayed with a CS host, James, who lived in an intentional community practicing permaculture and running an significant baking operation, supplying a number of local businesses with their produce. Situated in the Applegate Valley, it was an memorable night within the community, particularly having to collect my equipment in the dark from the opposite side of the nearby river (where I was a little anxious having heard there were cougar sitings on the roads a few days earlier).
1) recording in the Arcata Community Forest; 2) the Rise Up Artisan Bakery in early morning production
Dropping by the Medford community market where James was selling bread the following day (29 June), I then made my way to the sublime Crater Lake, before turning around to the coast, staying the night in an RV park on the outskirts of Coos Bay.
To finish off June, I spent the day (30th) travelling up the coast, recording at the Oregon Dunes and Salmon River Estuary. I also managed to drop by the Sitka Centre for the Arts and Ecology, checking out their facilities and various programs that they offer. From there, I travelled inland to Portland to begin my July chapter, which I’ll talk about more in the July instalment.
1) at Crater Lake National Park; 2) the Oregon Dunes
Writing this now from a Starbucks in Seattle (cliché, I know) and flying out tonight to Alaska for the Composing in the Wilderness workshops, it’s interesting to reflect upon the past month’s experiences.
To start, the US West Coast boasts a wonderful variety of natural beauty, often with distinct site-specific ecosystems emerging from extremely dynamic landscapes (influenced by coastal and fault line activity) and associated microclimates. Seeing summer fog in San Francisco and snow still melting at Crater Lake and in the Cascade Ranges was quite startling for a South Australian who’s used to arid, hot summers straddling the limits of bearability. The force too of the inland rivers, brought to life through glacial meltwater of nearby mountain ranges, was captivating, and I poignantly wonder if our own Murray River might have had a similar rate of natural flow prior to the introduction of locks, weirs and barrages. At least in my limited experience, it appears that The US National Park Service has been actively maintaining the country’s designated natural resources to date, and it’s concerning to hear of potential federal changes that might compromise this stewardship.
Related to this are some of the challenges around conducting roadtrip-oriented field recordings. Perhaps it’s an underestimation on my part, but there’s been many locations that I’ve had to forego whilst on the rapid (fortnight) long-distance dash between San Francisco and Seattle, and this only allowed for short recordings that capture places at specific times and in specific conditions. As the trip continues, I’ll at least have a few days at a time in particularly locations, which should allow for a greater investigation of these spaces’ soundscapes.
There’s also further challenges around the quality of the recordings, as numerous places have been in close proximity of major roadways, flight paths or human presence (esp. at camp sights). On one hand, this is actually representative of the place as it currently sounds (a byproduct of infrastructure encroaching on the wild), but for the field recordist aiming to represent more ‘wild’ soundscapes without human intervention, the ubiquity of anthropogenic sound can be a constant issue to address and circumvent. As field recording craft technique is best achieved through on-hands experience, I’ve found that the challenge of avoiding human sound (where it’s not desirable in the recording) has pushed me to come up with approaches involving changes in location, time of day, microphone setup and other considerations, all of which will inform how I approach future recording situations.
Additionally, I’ve had a number of adjustments and insights to cultural differences. Amongst the easier have been getting my head around how tipping works (I think I’ve started to master it), and driving on the righthand side of the road, but there have also been challenges, particularly around grasping the complexities of the healthcare system and social security (which, in spite of their flaws, makes me all the more grateful for Australian Medicare and Centrelink), and deep political divisions between urban and rural country. As I’ve been in predominantly blue-leaning states to date, I’m sure I’ll continue to develop more understanding about this more throughout my travels as I moved in through more conservative states and also across the border in Canada.
Even so, one of the things I am most humbled by is the generosity of strangers encountered along my travels. By and large, I’ve been finding accomodation through Couchsurfing.com, a website where people host one another for exchange of experience/skills rather than money, building a rapport of mutual trust that I feel is needed now more than ever in the US and around the world. The amazing hospitality and kindness of my hosts has been a reminder of the goodwill of the human spirit. Through them, I’ve been able to learn and benefit from their unique life experiences and local knowledge, for which I’m incredibly grateful (for June, many thanks to Jay, Kyle and James from CS, and Cheryl and Brenda!)
Until next time, all best wishes and much love and compassion,
It's been an extremely busy and productive past month, traversing over 6000kms by air, car, sea and on foot between Oregon, Washington, Alaska and British Columbia.
After ascending the Oregon Coast, I travelled on to Portland, where I stayed with Carlos and his parents Oscar and Michelle, all working in a family translation business. Carlos and I met in Bodhgaya last year when I was on pilgrimage with fellow students at Buddha House, and I very much looked forward to the opportunity to catch up with him whilst in the US. With a generous philosophy of 'mi casa es tu casa', I felt incredibly welcomed as a family friend whilst staying at the Beaverton House, and am very grateful for my experiences there (do let me know if you're ever in Australia, familia Nunez!)
Whilst Portland did live up to the quirk that the TV show Portlandia famously parodies, there was a refreshing feeling of familiarity for me as a South Australian (part-time rural, part-time urban) not offered by other cities I'd so far encountered - reasonable city planning and quality of living, many parklands and cycling accessibility, quaint little hubs of cultural activity.
1) the Portlandia Statue; 2) a tall, Lynchesque figure terrifying the streets; 3) one of the many murals in the Portland Area
Aside from the general adventures around the city's various alternative neighbourhoods and forests, a number of days are quite memorable.
On one day, I went along with Carlos to a Unite Oregon meet up at a nearby reserve on the Tualtin River. An state-wide advocacy group, Unite Oregon is works to build a unified intercultural movement for justice. Not only was it a delightful day to head out on the water canoeing with families from the Portland Chapter, but it was invigorating to hear the various platforms that the organisation had lobbied and been successful, such as law enforcement profiling and school-to-prison pipelines.
1) out on the water with Carlos; 2) suspended over the Tulatin River, with Unite Oregon families paddling on the water
Carlos also had the amazing foresight to take me to a chamber music concert, which turned out to be the headliner concert for Chamber Music Northwest's Summer Festival, featuring William Bolcom's new Sextet (with composer in attendance), alongside William Walton's Façade Suite (Bolcom and his wife, Joan Morris, narrating), and Martinů’s La revue de cuisin.
4 July was another treat. The day started off attending my first 'ball' game, where we found the Portland Pickles playing, off all possible teams, the Perth Heat! After settling in with quintessential hotdog and beer, the pre-game national anthems were observed, and though I'm not your typical Tru-Blu Aussie™, there was a strange sense of contrapatriotism I felt singing Advance Australia Fair. It must have been a shock for the surrounding audience, who even took to filming me!
After the game, Carlos and I went to meet some friends - Megan and Matt, both working in politics - before going to the Waterfront Blues Festival in Downtown Portland. With an incredible variety of rhythm and blues, classic rock and big band acts, topped with the OTT evening fireworks accompanied by various anthems (I never knew there were THAT many songs just about American or 7/4 pride), I left that night pretty satisfied.
1) Keep Portland Weird! (with an unsuspecting photobomber) 2) Carlos with the appropriate traditional dish, Mac and Cheese
The day after, Matt and I made our way out to the Columbia River Gorge, a prime loco spot for hiking with many cliff-cut paths and suspension bridges. Our aim was to get to a significant set of waterfalls, but after hiking for almost three hours, we decided to turn back (later learning that we were probably quite close). But, it wasn't all to waste - getting quite exhausted on the way back in the summer sun, we decided to descend to the river in the valley below and came across the lushly beautiful Punch Bowl Falls, relaxing for a while before heading back to the city. The next day, as Carlos left for Mongolia, I continued north on my travels into Washington, first dropping by Mount St. Helens' state-of-the-art visitor centre (which felt something of a protective bunker, perhaps in case the volcano decided to erupt again at any time).
1) Punch Bowl Falls at Eagle Creek - so refreshing after a long hike! ; 2) Mt. St. Helens
The next day, I made my way on to Mt Rainier, my first encounter with a mountain of its stature.
If there's one thing that's changed in my travels (writing now after having been to multiple West Coast peaks), its my perception of alpinism and mountain regions. With South Australia lacking significant snow-capped peaks, the idea of climbing anything meaningful is usually associated with the Mount Lofty Ranges or Ikara (formerly Flinders Ranges). Even going to the Australian Alps in my teenage years hadn't prepared me for the American West Coast Ranges' grandeur, and a few days prior to arriving, I looked to see whether it were possible to do a 'day hike' to the top of these mountains. Seeing the need for mountaineering equipment including crampons, and coming to appreciate their size (so large that it manipulates its own weather systems) I quickly realised that such ambitions were a bit beyond my time and current capability.
Thus, I decided to make a much shorter expedition out to Glacier Vista, a viewpoint overlooking the Nisqually Glacier. There, assisted by some hoary marmots, I spent the afternoon recording the glacier creak and groan through the afternoon heat as it made its slow, stately journey into the torrential river in the valley below. Later that night, I also went along to an astronomy demonstration, where NPS staff had set up various telescopes to see a variety of planets and moons (Jupiter and Saturn included), boreal constellations, cluster galaxies and nebulae.
1) Mount Rainier and the Nisqually Glacier; 2) the Nisqually glacial valley, and distant mountains in the Cascade Ranges; 3) my recording assistant for the day; 4) the assistant taking a much needed break
The next day, I travelled on further north, to Anacortes (a small coastal town to the east of the San Juan Islands) to purchase an Aquarian Audio hydrophone direct from the manufacturer's workshop. The owner, Robb, was very gracious with his time and knowledge, and after showing me around the workshop, we went on an afternoon expedition out to Cypress Island: first, by boat across the water, and then by foot, hiking around the secluded island and making field recordings amidst the diverse wildlife.
1) field recording at Duck Pond, in the middle of Cypress Island; 2) navigating the San Juan Islands
From there, I stayed with Couchsurfing hosts Stuart and Deanne, who were simply wonderful in their hospitality, with Stuart taking me to a gig in the nearby college town of Burlington, and Deanne assisting with some clothes mending. After spending a couple days in the area, I descended south to drop off my hire car at Tacoma airport. From there, I moved on to Snoqualmie, where I stayed for a night with Tanya, a fellow former Scout from back in SA, and her family. As a special treat in the evening, we visited many places made famous in the TV show, Twin Peaks (a guilty pleasure of mine), making sure to top off dinner with Agent Cooper's favourite foods.
1) in the words of Agent Cooper: a slice of cherry pie and "a damn fine cup of coffee" ; 2) the Twin Peaks waterfall, AKA Snoqualmie Falls
By this time, I'd started to recognise that there were distinct legs to my travels, and if San Francisco and the Bay Area were Leg 1, and the road trip north was Leg 2, then I was about to embark on the third.
The next two weeks saw me travel to Alaska to participate in an annual composition field workshop called 'Composing In The Wilderness', instigated by composer Steven Lias and the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival back in 2012. The workshop involves three days backcountry hiking in Denali National Park (supported by National Park Service scientists and Alaska Geographic staff), followed by four days of writing a new work in response to one's experience in the park in the isolated surrounds of Coal Creek Camp, Yukon Charley River Preserve. Following this, the new piece is rehearsed and performed in Denali and again in Fairbanks by seasoned contemporary music performers, Corvus.
Whilst I'd very much like to share more of my experiences, I feel that I'm still coming to understand the impact that CITW has had on me, and I'm currently fleshing out a much more detailed account that I hope to share via the Australian Music Centre.
In the meantime, here's some articles in the Fairbanks Daily News Miner and another in the Murray Valley Standard. You can also find raw recordings of the performances on my Soundcloud, and photos of the trip at the CITW Facebook page.
1) paused for reflection in Denali National Park; 2) Santa and the reindeer at North Pole!
Moving into the fourth leg, I left Alaska for Vancouver BC.
Having had a number of friends from SA either work or move to the area, the benefit of five years following Tumblr travel blogs celebrating the natural beauty of the province, and the knowledge that this is where the acoustic ecology movement (my research discipline) all began, it was an understatement to say that I'd been looking forward to my time in Vancouver.
My first port of call was my Couchsurfing H host, Taki, who lives in an apartment building overlooking downtown Vancouver, and who gave the perfect welcome and introduction to Vancouver. In the following days, I visited various city landmarks, including Kits Beach (watching the spectacular Japanese fireworks for Honda's Celebration of Light), Stanley Park, Gastown (where Vancouver's first buildings were established), and met some of Taki's friends in a penthouse barbecue over in East Vancouver.
To round out July, my final day was spent visiting Barry Truax, Emeritus Professor at Simon Fraser University, and one of the pioneers of the acoustic ecology field. Accompanied by four(!) Scottish Terriers, it was a delight to talk at length about all things acoustic ecology, sound art, and current research, and I'm look forward to meeting with him again later in August where we'll visit the studios at SFU Burnaby.
Now another month on from my previous writings, I'm starting to notice many subtle realisations and transformations brought on out this journey.
For one, there's a growing fuel to my creative fire which is spurring me on to write. Traversing a diverse range of terrain, each space with its unique blends of flora and fauna, history, culture, and spirit, I've had a flurry of ideas for new projects, particularly instrumental and multimedia works. One in particular is a series of piano miniatures that take inspiration from Sibelius' Op. 75, 'The Trees', a series of character pieces on five different trees of the boreal forest: The Road, The Fir, The Aspen, The Birch and the Spruce. As I've travelled throughout North America and marvelled at similar species to those that inspired Sibelius in his native Finland, I've been compiling my own selection for an arboreal album, including The Eucalypt, The Redwood/Sequoia, The Douglas Fir, The Drunken Spruce, The Arbutus, The Maple, and others to come. There's some other more extended 'travel' pieces I'm keen to develop as well, one on the experience of vastness flying over the Pacific Ocean depths on a clear night, and another on driving Highway 101 (thought that's a way off, as the final leg of the tour).
The trip hasn't been without its challenges though. Parts of me wonder whether I've packed to much into the trip, my mind often being overwhelmed having to process and digest the sheer amount of sensory input (let alone conceptual information) I've been constantly saturated with. Fortunately, there's been opportunity over past weeks to take time off to recuperate, and I'm intent on making time for sufficient rest so I can properly appreciate the rest of the journey.
There's also been challenges at times around finding nutritious sustenance, and I wonder about the impact that consuming things that pass for quality food (sometimes quite hard to avoid over here; p.s. what is this obsession with protein?) has had on my body. Rest assured, family and friends at home, I'm trying in earnest to eat as healthily as I can!
If there's one thing that stands out to me, though, it's the rejuvenation of child-like wonder. As a kid, I loved getting out and exploring the wider world around me, and part of the reason that I love my home state is there are so many different environments packed so closely together. As an adult, though, I've found that familiarity can breed complacency, and although I have the wonderful privilege and opportunity to spend time in these environments for my creative work and research, there's a capacity to overlook many of the wondrous nuances that we can glean from the world around us. Being able to visit such magnificent places even briefly has reignited a curiosity that kindles a love for life and its vast richness, and I hope that I can continue to tend to this with ample tinder as I return home in due course.
In some final notes, the Murray Bridge Piano Sanctuary has been successfully approved to go ahead (if not without some controversy), both covered in local news and internationally. As I return to SA in October, I'll be able to keep you updated at the project goes into its pilot phase.
Also, CutCommon recently interview me for their 'Queer and Now' series, interviewing LGBTIQA+ composers and musicians on their experiences, which you can read here.
Until next time, all best wishes,
Update on the Updates
I'm writing this having arrived safely home in South Australia on Sunday. Needless to say, it's been an amazing four and a half months abroad, with many inspiring, enriching and serendipitous experiences as I traversed North America.
Some of you may have noticed a lull in my monthly updates, which arose from both constantly being on the road since August, and also from some challenging Mac hardware issues, hampering my ability to keep on top of correspondence.
Looking to get my computer fixed ASAP, I'll leave you now with a couple appertisers:
- My article for the Australian Music Centre on my experiences in Alaska is now up, "From the Murray to the Yukon"
- I've also uploaded a number of photos to my Instagram account, which can been accessed online at: www.instagram.com/budeljesse
Thanks for your patience, and looking forward to sharing the adventures with you in due course.
All best wishes,
After my time with Taki in downtown Vancouver, I made my way over to Vancouver Island, where I was to stay with fellow former Scout Brad (who I’d met when he visited SA back in 2011 for the Rover Moot) for a few days whilst exploring the island (2-7 August). As he was still working when I arrived, his housemate Dave picked me up, and after settling in, we head down to the nearby gentle and shallow Nanaimo River, tubing as the fiery red sun set behind the smoke from the BC Fires.
When Brad arrived home the following day, I got a tour of the city, checking out some of the old fortifications and wharf areas, statues commemorating their famous ‘Pirate Mayor’ Frank Ney (who instigated, amongst many other things, the famous Nanaimo Bathtub Race), and tried the local famous delicacy, the Nanaimo Bar.
1) fiery red sun; 2) Frank Ney, Pirate Mayor of Nanaimo; 3) A model bathtub for the annual races; 4) The famous (and delicious) Nanaimo Bar
As the long weekend approached, when much of Canada has their regional provincial holidays, Brad and I head out from Nanaimo to Port Alberni, where a camp held by the town’s Kinsmen Club (a service organisation with close ties to Apex) was taking place. Over the next few days, I had the opportunity to visit an number of incredible locales, including Cathedral Grove (an old-growth forest with some of the tallest Douglas Firs in the world), and the coastal tourist towns of Ucluelet and Tofino, famous for their surf beaches. More field recording ensued, and in between time I had the wonderful opportunity to befriend fellow Kinsmen campers and other visitors alike(amongst them, Leanne, Gary, Jen, Barbie, Dave - sorry to the plethora of other people whose names escape me right now!) , as well as have my first tubing experience on the Somass River - extremely fun, to say the least!
1) Cathedral Grove. The unique orange ambience was a result of the smoke, still yet to clear; 2) Wading across the Somass River; 3)
With Albernians Leanne and Jen, and English visitors Sam, John and their daughter
On the final day (Aug 7), Brad and I returned back to Nanaimo to drop off our camping equipment, before continuing down to the provincial capital of Victoria, passing by the beautiful Parliament building and Hotel Empress. In the evening, we went to visit Buchart Gardens, an old quarry site turned into a now world-famous botanic sanctuary by the original owner’s widow, curated year round according to the season.
1) The Provincial Parliament Building; 2) The Hotel Empress; 3) Buchart Gardens
Spending the following day returning to Vancouver (Aug 8), I dropped by Donna and Jack Crippin’s house (who I was staying with at a later date) to drop off most of my luggage, before catching an overnight flight to Toronto for my next few days as a presenter at the Toronto International Electroacoustic Symposium (TIES, Aug 9-12). As a side note, I’ve come to appreciate the term, ‘red-eye’, used to describe the flights - the lethargy and blood-shot sclera can definitely follow for days after.
The following morning, after arriving at my Couchsurfing host Soli’s place, I slept for a few hours, before going to meet up with Jen (fellow Composing In The Wilderness participant, who'd decided to trek up for TIES too!). Over the course of the following days, I presented a paper on my current PhD research, ‘Southern Soundscapes: Ecological Sound Art Responses to Two South Australian Ecosystems’, met many other composers, sound artists and researchers either similarly presenting or performing in concerts held each day, and explored the quirky gentrified surrounds of the historic Distillery District where TIES was being held. Most exciting were the concerts, which focussed on cutting edge music involving high-tech octophonic (eight speakers surrounding the audience) or ambisonic (a full hemisphere of speakers on both horizontal and vertical axes) setups. Many of these pieces explored the use of spatialisation, where sound is shifted between speakers to imply movement or space, in intriguing and clever ways - helpful to me as I continue to explore this further in my own work and research.
On my final day in Toronto (Aug 13), after visiting the Melbourne Cafe (a brief taste of Aussie-style coffee) and bidding farewell yet again to Jen, I returned to Vancouver, where I was met at the airport by Rich, a long time friend of fellow Zimbabwean ex-pats Mac and Flea who live in Murray Bridge. After collecting my luggage from Donna and Jack’s place (thanks again!), we made our way to his house in Squamish, north of Vancouver. Arriving late at night, I didn’t see much of the surrounding landscape, and needless to say I was blown away the next morning to find mountain ranges and forest abound. And equally moving - seeing hummingbirds for the first time, sipping from a feeder right outside Rich and his wife Daphne’s kitchen window.
Feeling a little exhausted after the previous two month’s whirlwind of activities, I felt it best to spend the next week (Aug 14-19) taking time to rest, focussing on recuperating my energy lest I burnout halfway through the trip. Though taking things at a slower pace, I couldn’t help but indulged my inner adventurer/hiker. On my first couple days, I joined Rich and his dogs Shoomba and Jack on hikes in the Squamish valley (accompanied on one by a colleague and her two Australian shepherds), and cycle around downtown Squamish. Successive days saw me:
- hike the Chief, a traditionally sacred place for the Snomish people, and an incredibly popular destination for rock climbers and hikers alike
- visit Whistler-Blackcomb Mountains, taking my first ever gondolas (which I initially thought were Venetian style navigating alpine streams; how wrong I was!), and learning about the local geology and biology on an ecology tour
- Take the Sea to Sky Gondola at Squamish, overlooking Howe Sound
1) View of Howe Sound from the Chief; 2) View from the gondola crossing between Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains
On the morning of my final day, I skyped Tyler Kinnear, a fellow music/sound researcher and former member of the Canadian Association for Sound Artist (CASE), where we discussed many current topics in our field. Later that afternoon, Rich took me out to a local old-growth forest to setup up my recorders for an overnight recording, collecting them the following morning as Rich very kindly drove me back to Vancouver.
For my final days in Canada (Aug 20-25), I stayed with Jack and Donna Crippin, parents-in-law to Rachel Kennedy who I collaborated with earlier this year on Dances For A Small Stage as part of the Fringe (as an side note, you can listen to the music for my piece for the show, Orange, here). Keen to show me around, Jack and Donna took me to visit their for-sale apartment overlooking the greater city, before treating me to essential Canadian food at White Spot (where a waiter had trouble hearing I wanted a ‘hard’, not ‘hot’ lemonade, thanks to my South Australian liquid Rs).
Over the following days, I traversed greater Vancouver, moving between neighbouring cities. On the 21st, after watching the solar eclipse in Donna's backyard (86% occlusion in Vancouver), I met with acoustic ecology pioneer Hildegard Westerkamp, spending the afternoon talking chatting about all things soundscape and later having the opportunity to share and get feedback on some of my creative work with her. The following day, I hiked the Grouse Grind, a locally-notorious hiking path that ascend Grouse Mountain to the north of the city, before descending in another gondola, getting views of the city and nearby peaks of The Lions. The 23rd was a slight waste, as I’d realised that I’d left my good quality Nikes over on Vancouver Island, so I spent the afternoon catching ferries there and back to collect them (thanks to Dave who made the trip to the Departure Bay terminal!)
1) The solar eclipse as seen through a pair of binoculars; 2) Descending Grouse Mountain via gondola, with the Lions in the far background
Finally, I spent my last day meeting again with Barry Truax, touring the World Soundscape Project Archives at Simon Fraser University (where much of the original WSP research took place). To have the studio equipment and recording tapes in front of me, which I’d read much about throughout my postgrad research, was simultaneously surreal and inspiring, and I’m very grateful to Barry and Milena Droumeva (the current professor in Sound Studies) in providing their time for this visit. Later in the evening, Barry and his partner Guenther were ever the more gracious by hosting myself and Hildegard for dinner.
From there, I left Canada to head to my next leg in Boston, Massachusetts (August 26-27). After another red eye flight via San Francisco, I was picked up by my next Couchsurfing host, Geoff, who lived in an Backbay apartment overlooking the famous baseball stadium, Fenway Park. Over the next day, I sorted out my Amtrak train travel for the new month, as well as visited the Boston Aquarium and walked the Freedom Trail (a 2.5 mile walk between twelve famous Bostonian landmarks, a number pictured below).
New York was the next stop, packed full of sightseeing and pilgrimages to various contemporary music/arts sites. For the first few days (August 28 - Sept 1), I stayed with Couchsurfing host Chris (recent MIT graduate, working as a web analyst) in the middle of Hell’s Kitchen, a neighbourhood situated right next to Broadway and Times Square. Though it had a reputation for being a rough area, recent gentrification has helped to make the streets a lot more hospitable to the unassuming tourist.
Keen to see as much of the city as I could, I developed a list of places I wanted to go and successively ticked them off. I’ll write in summary from here, as there’s quite a few, and leave it to you to check out the links further if you’re keen for more information:
- a walk down 7th Avenue to Greenwich Village
- Passes by of The Stonewall Inn and Washington Square Park
- a musical pilgrimage to the Dream House, set up by experimental composer La Monte Young decades ago as an sound and light installation space
- a captivating walk home via The High Line, a repurposed old railway line now public garden overlooking the streets below.
1) The Stonewall Inn; 2) The High Line
- a visit to the Lincoln Centre of the Performing Arts
- An afternoon in the American Museum of Natural History, including a visit to the incredible Hayden Planetarium and an film on blue whales in their Imax theatre
- a walk through Central Park, then walk down Fifth Avenue passing Trump Tower (flipping the bird on the way), and St Patrick’s Cathedral
- a sound art pilgrimage to Times Square to listen to the installation, Times Square by Max Neuhaus. I spent quite some time listening to the ever fluctuation drones emerging from the subway grating below, and introduced some passersby to the work to alleviate their concerns I was high or had lost my phone to the depths below.
- An ascent to Rockefeller Plaza’s Observation Deck, providing a panoramic view of NYC
- A visit to Grand Central Terminal, its halls sustaining an immersive reverberance
- a walk by of UN Headquarters
1) Central Park; 2) NYC Skyline from Top of the Rock
That night, I moved on to my next Couchsurfing host, Rob (a tax attorney), based in a Battery Park appartment with view of One WTC. After arriving, we went on a walking tour of the immediate area, passing by the Charging Bull, New York Stock Exchange, Federal Hall, US Customs House, World Trade Centre Memorial, and Trinity Church.
The following days, I concentrated my excursions mainly to the local area:
- a round trip on the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty
- a visit to the US Customs House, once a thriving economic centre, now a museum for American Indigenous Cultures (from the Arctic to Patagonia) - well worth the visit!
- A brief musical pilgrimage to the World Trade Centre Memorial, listening to Steve Reich’s affecting 10th-anniversary commemorative work, WTC 9/11. Unfortunately, I didn’t make return trip to listen to John Adams’ On The Transmigration of Souls, written the year after the attacks but equally arresting.
- A trip on the A train up to West Harlem to meet with an fellow SA composer, Aaron Kenny, who now works as Alan Menken’s musical assistant
- A visit by Trinity Church to see the grave’s of Alexander Hamilton, and family members Eliza and Angelica Schuyler (satisfying my slight Hamilton addiction).
- Brunch with Rob at his local favourite cafe, a favourite Sunday tradition for him.
- Passing through Chinatown to crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, learn much about its construction from the informative plaques adorning the walkways
- An afternoon visit to Governor’s Island, originally the residency of visiting English dignitaries and later a military base, now a public arts and culture space managed by the National Parks service.
1) Brooklyn Bridge; 2) Manhattan from Governors Island
For now, I’ll leave it there, and pick up in a few days time with the September/October adventures.
'til next time, all best wishes,
Thus continues the recount of my recent travels, moving into September and October.
From my initial visit to New York City, I made my way on Amtrak to Averill Park (Albany), beginning my week long residency at Arts Letters and Numbers. It’s quite hard to articulate what or how ALN is, given how organically time there flows between creative and personal exploration, community building and deep interpersonal connection, and wilful abandon to play and curious diversion. I’ll make an attempt by asking you to imagine an artist community/colony vibe where residents and fellows eat, work, play and sleep in an old house on a hill, overlooking a former textiles mill. Nearby is a barn that features flexible staging, and all is surrounded by immersive New England forest. You can spend your time how you like: work rigorously on your next piece, research crazy ideas that may seemingly lead nowhere, relax on the House’s porch or down by the nearby lakes (season permitting), help out with renovations on the various buildings of the space, or make trips out to the amazing people and artistic institutions in the local area.
The House On the Hill
The Baldwin Grand Piano
My own time at ALN saw me do all these things. For my creativity output, I chose to focus on developing some of the field recordings from my recent travels on the West Coast (in preparation for an upcoming album - more on that later), and also begin on the Tree pieces I mentioned back in the July update. Fortunately, the House was home to an amazing Baldwin grand with brilliant high and resonant bass, which was delight to play as I composed. In tandem, I began reading ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’ by Peter Wohlleben, a fascinating book that considers trees as dynamic, thinking beings, detailing current research that shows they have multiple senses, and communicate through root and fungal networks in the soil beneath their massive fractal bodies.
What forges the deepest bonds is ALN’s connection to and support from the local community. Through the week, I met a whole host of people through events hosted at people’s homes and at ALN. A favourite place was Diane and Rob’s (an historic New England home with a wonderland of a backyard garden, skybridge connecting the main house to a nearby private study and workshop, and multilevel tree house), where they hosted T-Time, a Monday afternoon philosophical discussion over Tequila, and a potluck Friday breakfast (which I think was called ‘Liver and Bones). Elsewhere, Ping-Pong, a potluck dinner accompanying ping-pong matches occupied Tuesday night.
Other occasions included a swing band performance by local musicians Joshua Fialkoff and Bryan Brundige in the main living room on the Saturday night, and a day trip out to Mass MOCA seeing incredible long term exhibitions of James Turrell, Laurie Anderson, and Sol Lewitt, amongst others.
Hanging with other artists in residence Pablo, Nina, Laurits, Jianglui and Daehyun (with amazing peeps Hannah, Carson, Marisa, Frida, Zubin and Josephine unfortunately not featured)
At the end of my week at ALN, I returned to New York, feeling slightly depressed about having left Averill Park what I felt to be far too soon. After settling into my new Couchsurfing host Jon’s place in a Brooklyn basment apartment on Monday night (Jon working as manager for a nearby wine store), I spent the next couple days in NYC with Liz, which certainly helped to lift my spirits.
How Liz and I met is another example of the hyperconnectivity of the internet, and the numerous friendships I’ve made with people online. Back in San Francisco after posting a Pride-related picture to Instagram, I received a random message from a stranger, wishing me well for my Pride celebrations. I responded in kind, and from there, we kept corresponding, quickly becoming friends. Realising that I was going to be travelling in near Liz’s home of Las Cruces in New Mexico later in the trip, we organised to catch up whilst I passed through, but not long after, we also saw that we were going to be in New York again at the same time, so decided to meet up far earlier than expected.
Liz and I catching each Broadway show
My final couple days in New York were equally packed. On Thursday (Sept 14), some communication challenges meant that I met Buddhist scholar Bob Thurman very briefly on the street in the Columbia University district, before heading down to Lower Manhattan for a free concert at Trinity Church, part of a series covering the complete works of Anton Webern alongside his musical forebears and contemporary inspirees.
On Friday 15, I spent the day making field recordings in two iconic New York spaces, Grand Central Terminal and Times Square.
Recording in Grand Central Station and Times Square
That night, I had perhaps the biggest surprise of the trip. Whilst back at ALN, I’d shared my dorm room with Carson, a fellow composer who shared a lot of common musical interests and connections, and who’d also mention there was a gig on in Brooklyn on the following Friday night featuring notable musician James Blake. Definitely keen to go, I arrived at Carson’s apartment that night for predrinks, and was stunned to see a whole array of fellow ALN residents also in the room. After an amazing night of heavy dance music in a Brooklyn warehouse, we returned to the apartment where a few of us decided to have a slumber party in the rooftop garden, with view of the Manhattan skyline in the distance.
An early morning rise saw me part ways with the ALN family, and make my way to Washington DC, where I was catching up with another SA composer, Ollie, who’d been studying abroad at William and Mary College in Virginia. Not long after we met up at the train station, we made our way to H Street to meet our Couchsurfing host Kellan.
The next day, Ollie and I spent the day in the National Mall, visiting the National Air and Space Museum. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (with an exhibition by Ai Weiwei, amongst others), the towering Washington Monument (which we both noted as a phallic symbol of power), the Lincoln Memorial overlooking the Reflecting Pool, and the White House (encountering a protest march as we left Penn Avenue).
The Washington Monument, Ollie and I outside the White House, and the Reflecting Pool as viewed from the Lincoln Memorial
The following day, after Ollie left back to Virginia, I visited the Library of Congress (the largest library in the world), and passed under the street to visit the Capitol Building.
Thus followed the longest train trip in my life from Washington DC to New Orleans, reaching a total of 26 hours. On the other side, I was picked up by my Couchsurfing host Charles, who kindly took me on a tour of the historic French Quarter where he lived. After settling in at his house (side note: there’s a lot of resettlement throughout the trip), I ventured out to see the New Orleans night life, first dropping by the seldom dull Bourbon St (where I saw an intense fight breakout on the street complete with king hit, had multiple solicitations from street ladies, and saw chefs urinating freely in the street), before indulging in some New Orleans coffee and beignets.
The next day, I went to visit a variety of places in the French Quarter, including the New Orleans Jazz National Historic Park (the only music park in the National Park Service, Jackson Square, the Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France, and Preservation Hall (where I caught a gig of old-style jazz).
St Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square, and Preservation Hall
After dinner at home with Charles (enjoying a Jacob’s Creek Shiraz), I made my way over to the musical potpourri of Frenchmen's St., where almost every bar or restaurant had live music playing, taking my time to sample from the street before choosing to groove with the New Breed Brass Band.
My final half day in NOLA was spent visiting the Presbytère adjacent to (now a museum on local history and culture), and the French Markets, where I sampled some Louisianan seafood cuisine.
Without an easy Amtrak route to my next destination of Austin, I decided instead to fly, taking South West Airlines - worth the mention because it’s apparently the only service that offers two free check in bags, every other airline requires payment of $25 and $35 for first and second bags respectively UGH. Upon arrival, I caught an Uber in to the city, and met up with Sam Melnick, Jason Mulligan and Steven Serpa, fellow composer who I’d come to know through mutual friends or online connections over many years. After getting my first treat of authentic Tex Mex, we visited a few gay bars on the inner city’s 4th street. At this point, I should mention that Austin is a blue (Democratic) bubble in the red (Republican) sea of Texas, and as the state’s capital, the liberal attitudes of the city stand in stark contrast to the politicians who work in the state’s capital. This melange of politics and culture was ever fascinating and perplexing, and quite possible infuriating to the conservative lobbyist who call the suburbs home.
Getting Tex Mex with composers Steven, Jason and Sam
The following day (Sept 22), I went to breakfast with my new Couchsurfing host Dave (a former military officer who had gone back to university for further study), indulging in a Texan-sized serving of pancakes and fried chicken, before a number of Austin sites:
- The Natural History Museum (formerly the Museum of Texas), featuring many natural artefacts from the state (including a replica of the world’s largest pterodactyl)
- The Bob Bullock Museum, a very well funded space with a comprehensive permanent exhibition on the state’s history, amazing temporary exhibitions on the Prohibition Era and Video Games (with many playable consoles), and a four dimensional movie theatre.
- The Capitol Building
- the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge, which is home to over 1.5 bats that depart from the bridge each night for night feeding (which I was forunate to record)
The Lone Star outside the Bob Bullock Museum, and Texas Capitol
On my final day, I visited the Contemporary Gallery in downtown Austin (with a dreadfully fascinating film, Dead + Juicy by German filmmaker John Bock, and rich earthy sculpture and film works by Wangechi Mutu), before spending the afternoon wading in the Barton Creek Springs Pool and stroll through the Zilker Botanic Gardens. After another Tex Mex meal at the nearby Chuys, I boarded the train to San Antonio (making the most of a four hour stopover by walking the remarkable cosmopolitan Riverside walk and dropping by the Alamo Mission), before continuing on overnight to El Paso on the Texas-Mexico Border.
Barton Creek in Austin, and the Riverside walk in San Antonio
Arriving around midday on Sept 24, I met up with Liz, who then drove me over the border to her home town of Las Cruces in New Mexico. Her house is situated at the foot of the Organ Mountains, one of a few National Monuments established during Obama’s presidency, and the quietude of the surrounding area was a welcome change to the busyness of the urban centres that I’d recently visited. After having dinner at the nearby Mexican restaurant of La Posta (me now relishing New Mexican Mexican food, even more than Tex Mex), I set up my recorders overnight to record the nearby Chihauhaun desert soundscape.
The next day (Sept 25), Liza and I made a hike out Dripping Springs, a recreation area in the mountains’ shadows, featuring ruins of a former sanatorium and hotel. Later, we head into town and visited Liz’s mum’s jewellery shop, before meeting with a number of friends, including Taylor Rey (this year’s Miss New Mexico, who Liz was supporting for the Miss American competition over in Atlantic City NJ when we first met up) and Amalia, a fellow music major.
Overlooking the Sanatorium at Dripping Springs
With Liz leaving to visit a friend in Taiwan the following day (Sept 26), I returned to El Paso to catch the train onward to Phoenix, Arizona. Whilst in town, I was bewildered at the proximity of Mexico and the separation by a comprehensive border fence (installed during the Bush era). This continued for someway along the train route, before we changed direction into the Arizonan. Arriving in the evening to the town of Maricopa, I took a shuttle bus to Phoenix Airport, before catching an Uber to stay my next Couchsurfing host Chris (a lawyer originalyl from New York).
In arriving in Phoenix, I had to be slightly adaptable in my plans, as one of my main contacts had a family emergency that meant our meeting were no longer possible. Hoping to still make the most of my time in the Phoenix Valley, I approached each day with an open attitude, which made for a series of serendiptous experiences.
After a day to recuperate from the flurry of travel (Sept 27), I began to venture out, stopping by various cultural sites Chris had recommended to me:
- Phoenix Art Museum, with exhibitions on contemporary Brazilian art, Sikh history and culture, a photo series on Tibetan life, late drawings by Alexander Calder, and collection of contemporary works (including an infinite mirror work by renowned Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama
inside an infinite mirror work by Yayoi Kusama at the Phoenix Art Museum
- Musical Instrument Museum, an astonishing collection of musical instruments and music samples of culture from all around the world. Other collections focused on mechanical musical instruments, exhibits on musical luminaries, and an experience gallery where you could assorted instrument to your heart’s (or, in my case, harp’s) content.
- the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, with a temporary exhibition on works by seven Indigenous Australian women from NT and WA, and a permanent skyspace by James Turrell.
At the MIM, and SMoCA
That night, starting to make my way home but beginning to feel slightly peckish, I stumbled upon the nearby Great Australian Bakery. Keen for a pie, pasty, or sausage roll, I walked in to find an AFL Grand Final party taking place, put on by the Bakery and the local US AFL team (yes, they exist!). After getting a pasty and a Coopers Pale Ale, I sat down ready to watch the game, and not soon after, a fellow Australian named Barry sat down opposite me. Asking what I was doing in the US, I explained my travels, after which he asked who I’d been meeting with, and me, presuming Barry was a regular joe, explained I was a classical musician so t. To my embarrassment, Barry (Moon) turned out to also be a composer and sound artist, and was colleagues with the people I was going to be meeting in town. After spending the rest of the night watching the Grand Final (a disappointing result for Adelaide), Barry asked if I’d like to guest lecture at ASU West on the following Monday morning, which I gladly took him up on.
The next day (Sept 30), I spent the day catching up on assorted tasks, before heading to an art exhibition of a favourite producer of mine, johnlukeirl (AKA John Luke). Knowing I’d being travelling through Phoenix, I message him earlier my travel about meeting up, and he suggested coming along to this showing, happening as part of a family member’s new salon opening (Salon D’Shayn), opposite the Phoenix Art Museum. It made for a fun night, where I met a number of John Luke’s family and friends, and got to chat about music production and idea.
After another day of rest (Oct 1), the following evening Chris me to a local bar for a trivia night, with me only able to contribute to half the questions due to the Americanised knowledge.
Starting the week (Mon Oct 2), I went to present to Barry’s freshman class on my research and travels around the US and Canada, and in the afternoon went with Chris out to South Mountain Park, over looking the Phoenix Valley.
Native cacti, and the Phoenix Valley
The following day (Oct 3), I visited the Arizona State University Art Museum, and got a much needed haircut (making use of a voucher I got at the Salon on Saturday night). Later in the evening, I attendance a performance at a local elementary school of the Glendale Community College Concert Band (in which Chris played oboe), who had joined with the school’s band to perform for parents and friends of the children. After that we visited Outback Steakhouse, which was admittedly good, but definitely not Australia (we were surrounded by cringe-worthy photographs, toilets with ‘Blokes’ and ‘Sheilas’ signage, questionably-named menu items, and the only ‘Aussie’ beer served at the bar was Fosters - we all know what to think of that).
Outside an Outback Steakhouse
Mid-week (Oct 4), I visited the Desert Botanical Garden, a wonderful space exhibiting a comprehensive selection of flora from arid American lands, and later attended an acting improvisation class that John Luke teaches and had invited me to.
My final two days were spent at ASU Tempe. On the Thursday (Oct 5), I met with musicologist Sabine Feisst, initially joining the Acoustic Ecology Lab meeting in the sustainability school (where we discussed current projects of the Lab), and later partaking in Sabine’s Music, Nature and Sustainability Class, where I presented again on my current projects on South Australian ecosystems. In the evening, Ann Marie, a grad student in the Acoustic Ecology Lab, invited me to share dinner with her and her husband Matt.
On the Friday (Oct 6), I met with Sabine for lunch, before spending the afternoon in James Turrell’s Sky Apparent sky space, and later attending a concert of the ASU Chamber Orchestra, with a program of the Ligeti Cello Concerto, John Adams’ Shaker Loops (a favourite piece of mine), and a vibrant rendition of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite.
James Turrell’s Sky Apparent at ASU Tempe
Attending a concert of the ASU Chamber Orchestra
I’ll leave the logs for there, and return with my last instalment, detailing my return travels to California.
Here at long last is the final instalment of travel logs, covering my final few weeks in the US and Canada.
After a week and a half in Phoenix, my Couchsurfing host Chris kindly drove me to the airport, where I collected my rental car for the week (Oct 7-14). From there, I made a trip up to Sedona, famous for its stunning red cliff faces, to visit the Amitabha Buddha stupa.
Amitabha Stupa at Sedona, Arizona
Not realising ahead of time that there were no roads passing through the mountainous divide to the west, I then drove back down to the outer Phoenix Valley, before heading west towards my next destination of Joshua Tree National Park in California.
By the time I’d arrive in the evening, all campgrounds were completely full in the park, and after sifting through a number of accomodation options, I decided to try the nearby Joshua Tree Lake RV Park and Campground. Boy, was I in for a night. Arriving at the campground gates, I was greeted by a ticket booth, with a music and multicoloured lights throughout the area - unbeknownst to me, I’d arrived on the weekend of the Joshua Tree Music Festival, and decided to make the most of the opportunity by purchasing a ticket, joining in with the festivities (with a diverse assortment of great acts) and camping in my tent overnight before leaving the next morning.
Come day break (Oct 8), I spent the morning in Joshua Tree National Park, hiking around Hidden Valley, and exploring a number of other areas by car, before leaving for LA.
Hidden Valley, and Joshua Trees in Joshua Tree National Park
As luck would have it, my LA hosts, Dominick and Luis, were based on Hollywood Boulevard a few blocks from the Walk of Fame. Dom works for Imax, and Luis works as an actor and casting agent. After settling in, Dom and I went down to Santa Monica, check out the boardwalk and local malls, before heading back home through Beverly Hills, gracing the residences of the rich and famous.
Santa Monica Beach
The following day (Oct 9), I took the time to stroll the Walk of Fame, before checking out Hollywood Hills and the Griffith Conservatory. In the afternoon, I caught up with fellow Composing In The Wilderness participant Christian Dubeau. Later, in the evening, Dom had managed to get some tickets for the three of us to see Blade Runner 2049 at the Chinese Theatre, with gigantic Imax screen and impressive surround sound.
Tom Petty Tribute on the Walk of Fame, Hollywood Boulevard, and the Griffith Observatory
I left LA the next day (Oct 10), and began to make my way up the Pacific Coastal Highway (Highway 1), passing through Malibu and Santa Barbara. Unfortunately, the bridge that collapsed near Big Sur hadn’t been repaired by that time, so instead of continue my travel by the sea as intended, I had to divert inland back to Highway 101.
Highway 1 near Malibu
After a few hours drive, I made it to my next Couchsurfing situation, in the hills near Carmel Valley Village. The cabin I was staying in was home to Marco, a marine biologist, but as he was currently travelling in Europe himself, I stayed instead with his housemates, Andrew (a music producer and artist, who was make glass pendants when I arrived), and Sean, a bassist who was currently studying up in Monterey.
Marco’s cabin in Cachagua Hills near Carmel Valley Village, and Andrew crafting glass pendants
The next couple days were spent exploring the section of Highway 1 from Carmel Beach (a famous sea side town) through to Pfeiffer-Big Sur State Park, with the road closed from there onward. With beautiful weather, I relished in the chance to drive and hike in this incredible section of coastline, making recordings with both my audio recorder, and GoPro by mounting it to the rental car (this content intended to be part of a future creative project). Though I wasn’t able to access Big Sur and the nearby Pfeiffer State Park due to the road closure, I did traverse down to the adjacent Andrew Molera State Park beach, and (continuing my music pilgrimage) listened to John Adams’ amazing electric violin concerto, The Dharma At Big Sur (if you haven’t ever heard this piece, I STRONGLY recommend to listen, at the very least to Part 2). Feeling the lash of ocean wind and beach sand, smelling the sea spray, and watching the tumble of the Pacific’s waves whilst listening to this piece was an deeply life affirming moment, melding the sensory and sublime, and I’m deeply grateful to everyone who allowed me this opportunity.
The Bixby Bridge on Highway 1, and Big Sur as seen from Andrew Molera State Beach
Later that night, I watched the sun set to the west into the Pacific Ocean; obscured by the smoke of the Sonoma and Napa Valley fires, the orange disc gradually turned to a pink, and, rather than disappearing behind the horizon, the light reflected in such a way that it looked like the sun and sea melted into one another. Coming back to the cabin at twilight, I met Becs, a fellow friend of Sean doing seasonal work in the area, and with Andrew, we watched (for my first time) Pulp Fiction.
Cachagua Hills, as seen from Marco’s cabin
As I wrapped my time on the coast, I moved on to Monterey (Oct 13-14), where I stayed with my final Couchsurfing host, Jared, a military cultural officer who was learning Russian in at the nearby army schools. A drive along 17 mile Drive and a visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium occupied me for the most part, with Jared and I checking out a sushi restaurant and a few bars in town that evening.
The Lone Cypress at Monterey
My final stop on my travel was San Francisco (Oct 14-20), where I was ever so kindly hosted by composer Brenda Hutchinson (who I stayed with on my first visit, and learned from) and her husband, kinetic sculptor Norman Tuck in their Outer Sunset house. After dropping off my car at the rental place in downtown SF, I spent the evening catching up with them both and discussing my travels around North America.
Wanting to make the most of my remaining time in the US, I resolved to see some of the sights that I’d missed on my first pass through the city, but also to take time to decompress before returning home.
Resting the following day (Oct 15), I head out the next (Oct 16), spending most of the day at SFMOMA. With much for creative and intellectual stimulation (with exhibitions on Pop, Minimalist, Abstract and Figurative art), the highlight for me would have to me the Soundtracks exhibition, which featured sound installations by over 20 sound artists, including Brian Eno and Ragnar Kjartansson, who’d produced an entertaining immersive 9-screen-and-speaker synchronised performance with friends in an upstate NY Hudson River mansion. In the evening, after visiting the famous City Lights Bookstore, I attended an experimental music gig at the Canessa Gallery, with virtuoso guitarist Elliott Sharp performing, supported by Cheryl Leonard (who I also stayed and studied with in June), as well as acclaimed electronic musician Jon Leidecker (AKA Wobbly).
I continued the day after (Oct 17) with my SFMOMA adventures, this time aurally exploring the electric fields of the city streets through electromagnetic-receiving headphones by Christina Kubisch. A whole new hidden soundscape of the urban environment opened up, and I was able to hear the rhythms and drones of neon lights, ATMs, recharging stations, power transformers, security gates and electrical traffic wiring as I strolled through downtown San Francisco.
Returning to the East Bay (Oct 18), I caught up with a friend Jason, revisiting the Oakland Museum and walking around Lake Merritt (actually an estuary connected to the Bay), before later getting drinks in Berkeley with another friend I’d met earlier, violinist and composer Kristina Dutton.
My final two days in San Francisco made for an exhilarating end to my trip. Through a former Scouting connection, I managed to get a tour of the SF Downtown Google Offices (featuring as many adaptable workspaces as creative pursuits and entertainment facilities) , as well as enjoy a free lunch in there dining halls. In the afternoon, I was able to catch up more properly with Cheryl in her Inner Richmond apartment, before walking a few blocks to walk Haight Ashbury (a necessary experience especially in the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love).
The Bay Bridge as seen from Google’s SF Downtown offices
That evening, I was invited by Liz Keim, Director of Cinema Arts and Senior Curator at the Exploratorium (and friend of Brenda), to attend a showing of Austrlian media artist Lynette Wallworth’s VR work, Collisions, which discusses the impact of nuclear tests and mining on Martu Nation and its people in the Pilbara, WA. Little did I know that Lynette had flown in from Sydney that night to do a talk on the work, and I had the wonderful opportunity to meet and discuss with her afterwards.
For my last day, I visited Castro District once more, making time to see the Gay Lesbian History Museum and do some last minute gift shopping. Returning to Brenda and Norm’s to collect my things in preparation for my departure that night, the three of us then made our way back to the Exploratorium for yet another treat care of Liz (AKA the icing on the cake), a showing of a new documentary on the Kronos Quartet, A Thousand Thoughts, by documentary maker Sam Green. With Green live narrating the film, and Kronos playing live excerpts of works they’d commissioned across their 40+ year history, I was deeply appreciated and honoured to be amongst the first to see this commemorative work on this phenomenal ensemble.
Kronos Quartet and Sam Green presenting A Thousand Thoughts.
Bidding my farewells to Brenda and Norm at the airport, I boarded my 11:25pm flight from San Francisco back to Sydney, sleeping 5:30 hrs on the flight (goodness knows how), syncing up seamlessly with Australian times zones such that I didn’t really have any jet lag (very lucky, I know!).
So that’s it. 4 1/2 summarised months of my life done.
I’d expected by the time I got to finishing writing these posts that I’d be able to continue the self-reflective process that I started to explore in my June and July updates. But, to be honest, in coming back to home soil, I’m increasingly sensing a deeper fermentation continuing as I adjust back to the subtle things that make Australian life unique, and come to understand more nuanced perspectives on myself, my communities, my vocation, and the greater world around me. All in good time!
For now, I’ll leave it there, but will leave you with a quick plug for my performance as part of Soundstream Adelaide’s Blue Touch Series. I’ll be talking about some key parts of my trip, and share a number of field recordings and creative works that have emerged out of my experiences abroad. Tickets are $15/$10, with more information available at the Soundstream website or on the Facebook event.
Lastly, thanks to each and every one of you for your support, kindness and care across the past four months in whatever small or large way you’ve offered it, and your readership of these journal entries. These life changing and forging experiences have only been possible through your collective generosity, and I’m deeply, deeply appreciative of this.
With much gratitude and love,
This professional development tour, American Ascent, is made possible through the support of the South Australian Government through a Carclew Fellowship, a Helpmann Academy Grant, a Rural City of Murray Bridge Small Wins Grant and many generous private donations.