2017: Harry Gray: The Sounds of the Wilderness

Harry Gray
Summer 2017 Project Report
Chase Coggins Scholarship Committee

This summer I traveled to Acadia National Park to explore the sounds of the wilderness. Thanks to the generosity of the Committee, I was able to spend two weeks at a cabin on the west side of Mount Desert Island, the so-called quiet side. From the campground I made day trips all across the island—most of which is national park—to make field recordings. I found enchanting bird songs in the woods, especially the harmonic warble of the hermit thrush. At the top of the highest peak on the island I found two pine trees so close together that they would squeak when the breeze blew them against one another. I recorded the noises squirrels make when provoked to self-defense by the sound of hikers’ boots crunching up the underbrush. I made more than twenty recordings of flowing water—brooks in the woods, mile-wide lakes, the Atlantic at high tide. Sometimes I caught on microphone the conversations of other hikers. On other hikes I focused instead on creating recordings with the instrument I built for the purpose of sonically rendering the natural environment. I walked around with a box that synthesized the dynamics of visible light, spatial orientation, proximity of objects in front of me, and temperature. I created two recordings before slipping and destroying an essential component of the instrument in the middle of the third. I was able to salvage the first two recordings, on which I based the two compositions I have submitted alongside this report, and a few photographs.

Over two weeks in Acadia, I succeeded in attuning my ears to the sounds of the wilderness. My campground was perfectly quiet. I became extremely sensitive to even the most distant hermit thrush. I discovered that its song is different in the afternoon than in the morning. The compositions I created should reflect attunement to even the slightest change in a soundscape. They should also reflect the multifarious composition of a soundscape: some sounds are constant and undulating, while others are brief, staccato, and interruptive. The durations and structures of the compositions reflect my field recordings in that they render, for example, a brief hike through the woods to reach a serene clearing and a lake. Furthermore, I did audio analysis of my water recordings and bird call recordings to create some of the textures for the synthesizers in both compositions. All sounds in the final compositions are synthesized. This was an important choice for me, not to include the recordings themselves, but rather to use information from them to create more pleasing and self-sufficient pieces of music. I had a blast hiking, recording, and composing, and I truly am grateful for the opportunity to have spent so much time in the Maine wilderness. I hope you will hear some of my close attention to nature in my compositions.

Audio compositions:

Forest Meditation 60MB

Hike & Rest 82MB