In Resurrection Bay
Bill Baird's music of Alaska's melting glaciers
Bill Baird traveled the shores of Alaskan fjords, bays, and glacial lakes with specialized field recording equipment – like parabolic reflector dishes and submersible hydrophones – to capture the sounds of a primal yet changing landscape. He used these recordings of glaciers melting, waves lapping, whales spouting, orcas clicking, and sea lions roaring as the basis for musical compositions in this homage to the sonic beauty of Earth’s interconnected processes.
The piece begins as vibraphonist Mark Clifford bows his instrument in consonance with the spouting of a Humpback Whale. The piece ends with cellist Crystal Pascucci and my electronic manipulations creating a sense of unease. As I'm sure you know, the ocean is kinda, ya know, being mistreated.
This is called a "stochastic composition." It basically means you take a naturally occurring phenomenon and use it as instructions for a musical performer. Like, say you were at McDonald's and wanted to create a stochastic composition. You see a dude at the next table scarfing his fries. Every time the guy at McDonald's eats one of his fries, all the musicians hit their highest note on their instrument. Every time he dips his fry in ketchup, the musicians make a grunting sound. Etc. The musical instructions are defined, but what's triggering the instructions is random – it's a natural phenomenon.
For this, I filmed the waves washing into shore in Resurrection Bay, Alaska, and used the frequency and strength of the waves as stochastic notation for a baritone saxophone player. I was electronically manipulating the saxophone as well, using the motion of the ocean as a guide. The only fries were the ones I was eating at the mixing board.
Glacier Melt Nava
Performing here with my friend, the amazing percussionist and improviser Nava Dunkelman. In the background, you can hear the sound of glaciers melting, orcas clicking, water rushing… on top of all that, you have me playing ebow, drum machine, and bass guitar. The ending is Crystal Pascucci's cello swallowing it all up. The earth will continue… with or without you, mankind.
Using hydrophones and parabolic mics, I recorded the sounds of Alaska's Resurrection Bay – glaciers, whales, birds, sea lions, boats. I then took a map of the bay itself and used it as a guide for composing a sound journey for myself and fellow improvisors Nava Dunkelman, Jacob Peck, and Ben Salomon. (Nava will be doing a residency soon at The Stone, John Zorn's spot in Manhattan. Definitely check her out – amazing). Everything you hear was completely improvised, using the existing soundscape and the score generated from the map of the bay. The middle section is a bit of an homage to John Fahey, who had a song called "I Am the Resurrection."
The structure is a series of deaths and rebirths, within a larger meta-structure of life, death, and rebirth. If that makes no sense or seems a bit pretentious, just listen to the sounds. There's a lot to get lost in. Nava and Jacob did a great job mimicking animal sounds. In certain spots, it's difficult to tell what's the musician and what's the animal. The piece begins and ends with the boat – going out to sea and coming back. Like life itself, begins and ends in the abyss. See you there.”
Water shader by Bryan Ma for Silica Magazine.
Feature curated by Evander Batson.