This Week in the Mercury

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Claudia Meza's Listening to Space: Sonic City PDX

Posted by Matt Stangel on Sun, Sep 16, 2012 at 9:56 PM

Yesterday afternoon I stopped by for the live presentation of Claudia Meza's Listening to Space: Sonic City PDX, billed as a QR code walking tour consisting of “thirty local musicians, composers, and sound artists'... favorite local sonic spaces.”

East of the river under the Morrison Bridge, performances of experimental compositions spanned the sublime (Luke Wyland, Like A Villain, etc.) to the abrasive (Daniel Menche), and over the course of the afternoon I couldn't help but think back to Meza's End Things piece at the White Box, “Water”— consisting of 30-some Califone tape recorders loaded with sounds of water— and how the field recordings included in the installation acted like windows into unknown physical spaces, conjuring sonic sources and abstract, amalgamated poly-environments.

Sonic City PDX's digital home presents a similar (but slightly different!) relationship between sound and physical space. The project's Tumblr brings together field recordings and writings that detail contributing musicians' favorite spots— like “Water,” getting at the connectivity between a sound and its source, though stripped of all abstraction (here's the place, here's what it sounds like, rather than, here's a sound, imagine where it came from). I took this slight difference as deliberate, each project acting as the key to understanding the other.

Perhaps that's why I was a little confused by Sonic City's live component, which Meza described to the crowd as the participating artists' “responses” to their chosen locations. Confused because it seemed like Meza went to fairly great lengths to minimize artistic filters/responses to the locations in Sonic City, only to embrace those very filters/responses at the end of the process. No biggie, the response compositions were pretty great, it's just that once an artist makes a song about a place, that song stands between the listener and the place, and for Meza's conceptual purposes— illustrating relationships between sounds and their sources— that's a muddying element.

Whatevs, Sonic City is a rad project, and I like how it converses with “Water.” Below is one of my favorite Sonic City locations, selected by Emily Baker (I'd recommend combing through the site and picking a few places to check out IRL— the included locations span all quadrants and corners of the city and there's a little something for everyone).

Lifted from the Sonic City website:

Location 8: NE 29th Ave./NE 30th Ave. & Wygant St.

  • Sonic City

“Between Wygant and Alberta everyday of the week there is a window with a grove of giant bamboo which has outgrown its space and brushes against the glass creating a soft wavy sound like brushes on a coated jazz drum. And then only on Sundays from about 9am until 3pm during the gospel church gathering one block over on 30th and Wygant, the brushing of the bamboo mixed with the faint gospel singing and enthusiastic drums and piano is a very nice combination, creating a loop for hours.”

-Emily Baker


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