Soundwalk

Chad Crouch

Soundwalk combines roving field recordings with an original musical score. Each episode introduces you to a sound-rich environment, and embarks on an immersive listening journey. It's a mindful, wordless, renewing retreat.

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Episodes

Larch Mountain Soundwalk
2d ago
Larch Mountain Soundwalk
Well friends, we’ve come to the end of another chapter in our Soundwalk journeys. For our final installment in the series on Mount Hood—Oregon’s tallest stratovolcano (at 11,249’)—we are taking in Larch Mountain.While technically just outside the confines of the Mount Hood National Forest, Larch Mountain offers a gorgeous view of Wy’east, the Native American name for Mount Hood.Right? Oh man, what a beauty!It was an interesting confluence of events that drew me out to Larch Mountain on Oct 31, 2023. It was the last day to drive the road up there before it closed for the season. Also, I was peripherally aware that Grey-crowned Rosy Finches were spotted in the area; a rarity for the county. Mind you, I never heard of Grey-crowned Rosy Finches until a couple days prior, and I’m not usually a rare bird chaser, but the time and space opened up so drove up there, to the outer reaches of Multnomah County. It was a beautiful partly-cloudy day. There were patches of snow on the ground; a crunch crunch under foot. So quiet!Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Golden-crowned Kinglets and a Red-breasted Nuthatches meandered through the canopy. Chipmunks chattered. Red Crossbills called out in flight. I did see the Grey-crowned Rosy Finches far below me from Sherrard Point (where I took that photo of Mount Hood) but they never got close enough for a decent photo.Larch Mountain was developed as a tourist attraction / forest service lookout in 1915 when the first tower and hiking trail were constructed. It was a hard-earned view. The 13.3 mile trail (out and back) climbed 4000 feet up from the iconic Multnomah Falls to summit of Larch Mountain. At that time most visitors would have arrived by train to Multnomah Falls. The Historic Columbia River Highway opened to automobiles in the early 1920’s. Today, while the one mile trail up to the top Multnomah Falls is bustling, the remaining miles up to Larch Mountain, following Multnomah Creek for the most part, is serene in contrast. It was on the upper rim of this trail that I made this soundwalk. Like Timothy Lake Soundwalk, this is a very quiet soundscape. The same recommendation applies: For best results, listen with headphones, or in a quiet environment. Thanks for reading and listening. It brings me joy to share it with you!Larch Mountain Soundwalk is available on all streaming platforms (Spotify, Apple, Tidal, Amazon, YouTube…) tomorrow, June 14th. This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit chadcrouch.substack.com/subscribe
Wildwood Soundwalk
May 30 2024
Wildwood Soundwalk
This is a free preview of a paid episode. To hear more, visit chadcrouch.substack.comEarlier this year I shared a soundscape field recording of an American Dipper singing on the Salmon River near Mount Hood at Wildwood Recreation Site. Wildwood Soundwalk is another recording that was made on that same day, Feb 20 of this year. It captures the sounds of walking over bridges and wetland boardwalks, languorously moving past springs, creeks and seeps trickling down rock walls, and strolling alongside the Salmon River. If you like gentle water sounds, you’re in for a treat. There’s more water than wildlife sounds in this one.These days when I edit my Soundwalk audio, I remove airplanes, automobiles and humans. I generally do this by digitally splicing the recording. Snip, snip. I also use selective EQ filters and a cut and paste technique to remove low frequency highway or aircraft noise. Overall though, I rarely crossfade clips or deviate from the linear timeline. My hike that day took me up Boulder Ridge into the Salmon Huckleberry Wilderness. Though a couple signs warned of black bears in the area, and the scenery was lovely, this section of audio proved less interesting, so I swapped it out for the American Dipper song by the river. Here is a clip of it batting its white eyelids and doing its dip motion. Charmer!I take my time at the base of the incline, lingering next to rivulets dripping over mossy rocks, crouching down to observe with my eyes and ears the little details of these watery vignettes.Compositionally I’m delighting in the water, selecting bouncy synthesizer patches to play off the water sounds. Stitched throughout the instrumental score is, essentially, a duet for electric piano and clarinet. It’s all performed with an unrehearsed looseness, which I hope lends an unfussy, “wild” vibe. Woodwind arrangements, hushed celeste, and a variety of animated synth passages also add to the bouquet of sound. I hope you enjoy it! Wildwood Soundwalk will be available on all streaming platforms (Spotify, Apple, Tidal, Amazon, YouTube…) tomorrow May 31.
Company Lake
May 23 2024
Company Lake
Company Lake is a scrappy bit of woods and water on the banks of the Columbia River near Troutdale Oregon. Birds flock to it.I was going through some old files yesterday and rediscovered this 10 minute piece. I don’t have any memories associated with the composition—a minimal suite for piano, bells and electric piano I found surprisingly well paced and strong in the coda—but I recall my visit to the place I recorded the soundscape just a year ago. The soundscape is from the roughly 70 acre cottonwood grove near Company Lake, a small body of water near the former site of an Alcoa aluminum plant known for the last half of the previous century as Reynolds Metals. The area was named a superfund site by the EPA in 1994. In 2004 the aluminum plant that once used more electricity than the entire city of Portland (back in 1981) was demolished. After being cleaned up, the site was redeveloped as a FedEx distribution center.The FedEx employee parking lot used to welcome birders to the Company Lake environs. Last year, however, I arrived to find a gated lot, fenced off with barbed wire. I’m going to hazard a guess that this has something to do with car prowls and houseless camping, but there’s no official word on that. To get to the wooded area today you have to walk a half mile on a bike path from the closest public road. All the more privacy for the birds, I suppose, but a change that left me feeling a little deflated at the time. In retrospect, not really a big deal. I mean, let’s be honest, what can we expect from a place called “Company Lake”? It’s almost a cartoonish appellation; something you would expect in an episode of the Simpsons. Three-eyed fish and barrels of industrial waste, anyone?Who named it Company Lake and why did it stick? Google couldn’t tell me, and Chat GPT (4.0) hallucinated with gusto: “The name "Company Lake,"originates from its historical association with the Union Pacific Railroad Company. The lake, along with several other lakes and ponds in the area, was created as a result of gravel extraction operations conducted by the railroad company.” Bla-bla-blah… No such thing occurred! The lake was likely created as a flood channel before becoming choked off. The name? Well it likely comes from the era of land ownership cited in newspapers as “Sundial Ranch Company” between 1910 and 1924, referring to the 2400 acre tract near Troutdale held by the Union Meat Company. In those days it was still a wild landscape, according to a 1941 reminiscence by Ben Hur Lampman in The Oregonian: Yon was a great country before it was diked, in the times when the river refreshed it with regularity. With the wood ducks winging over the shining expanse of it, and a static excitement in the soft air, and the willows smelling like spiced varnish.So in truth, “Company Lake” is a misnomer. The lake is on the “wild” side of the dike amongst the low-lying cottonwoods. It’s not a titan of industry cesspool. Company Lake today is like a moat to a no man’s land, cordoned off by industry and forgotten by most, re-wilding in obscurity.I’ve decided not to restrict access to this recording. Thanks goes to my subscribers for supporting my work and making this possible. Thank you for your interest, and for being here. Before I leave you, let’s just take a moment to contemplate the Lovers Oak, which once stood near Company Lake, another testament to the resilience of life.The original tree was shaped by an 1876 Columbia River flood. The slender oak was forced over one log and under another, maturing into the shape of the letter "S" lying on its side. The lowest curve of the S-shaped tree formed a perfect bench where friends and lovers met on pleasant Sunday afternoons. Local residents began to call it the Lovers Oak.During World War II when the government built the aluminum plant nearby, it was agreed to fence and protect the tree. The publicity resulting from that decision brought the tree to the attention of Ripley's "Believe it or Not," a nationally syndicated cartoon featuring unusual items throughout the world.After the war, the tree was forgotten by most. It fell in the Columbus Day windstorm of 1962, but the image remained in memory as the logo of the Troutdale Historical Society. -troutdaleoregon.gov This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit chadcrouch.substack.com/subscribe
Castle Canyon Soundwalk
May 16 2024
Castle Canyon Soundwalk
This is a free preview of a paid episode. To hear more, visit chadcrouch.substack.comCastle Canyon is in The Mount Hood National Forest, a stone’s throw from the little hamlet of Rhododendron. It isn’t a what I’d call a canyon. It’s a wooded ridge with some striking volcanic rock formations rising out of it. Two steep creek canyons do cut troughs in the landscape on either side of this ridge, so it’s not devoid of canyons, but the “castle” bits don’t mix with the canyon bits in an obvious way. The short trail that leads up to these rock pinnacles is quite steep, utilizing just a few switchbacks to climb 800 feet in less than 3/4 of a mile.The soundscape here is unique. I’d call it airy, reverberant and fuzzy. The sound of the distant tumbling creeks bounces up through the Douglas-fir and hemlock woods, mixing with the breeze playing off the leaves of alders and big-leaf maples, forming a bio-acoustic hum. Its frequency changes subtly as I climb the trail. This is not a soundwalk I would recommend listening to in the car. Its features are nuanced and easily lost in a din. I mixed the soundscape more in the foreground than in the past, embracing all that fuzzy creek sound. It’s probably best experienced in headphones or a quiet environment. I’ve also been utilizing more of the stereo sound stage lately: placing instruments in the mix solidly in the left or right channels. After all, this is how the birdsong registers. When you listen with headphones and close your eyes you can often picture the birds in imagined space. Pacific Wrens can be heard singing and calling at different points, along with Golden-crowned Kinglets and Dark-eyed Junco. A distant Pilieated Woodpecker’s laugh is heard and in the opening minutes, and midway through a raven honks and vocalizes in “subsong” (birdsong that is softer and less well defined than the usual territorial song, sometimes heard only at close quarters).My score is melodic, as always, but always rising through the scale, playing off the rising pitch and evolving timbre of the creek sounds on the climb. For the instrumentation I challenged myself to leave piano out this time. With small songbirds so prominent in the soundscape, I tend to gravitate to “smaller” sounding instrument voices: glockenspiel, circle bells, flute, wispy synths. A clarinet plays out a theme at several points. One interesting addition to the instrumentation is Joshua Meltzer’s “Panjo”, a clever virtual instrument hybrid playing either baritone banjo or pan drum sounds for each note from the phrases I play on the keys. Never the same twice. It sounds like a dreamy, twangy music box.Just over a week ago I finished submitting the next dozen soundwalks to come after this one, cementing the biweekly release schedule up to December! So, I know well what is in the future for Soundwalk and I don’t think it spoils any surprises to say they more or less follow the trajectory set by Castle Canyon Soundwalk. What I don’t quite know is what I will create over the summer and fall, having freed up my schedule, but I’m hoping to experiment, take some risks, and branch out! In that spirit, I’ll leave you with this short video of the trail to the pinnacles viewpoint at Castle Canyon. Thanks for being here. I hope you enjoy Castle Canyon Soundwalk. It will be available on all streaming platforms (Spotify, Apple, Tidal, Amazon, YouTube…) tomorrow May 17.
Still Creek Soundwalk
Apr 25 2024
Still Creek Soundwalk
There’s nothing dramatic about the Still Creek trail. It’s basically an easy-breezy trail that heads out over a ridgeline saddle from a campground set among old-growth Douglas-fir trees and a creek in the foothills of Mount Hood. Just a walk in the woods.The most dramatic part is the beginning. Winding through the stout tree pillars, we cross the surging Camp Creek. Hence, our walk begins with a piano and woodwind fanfare. For the instrument palette I’m embracing solo clarinet and solo flute again after a years-long absence. Also glass marimba. As a performer my keyboarding style has always been loose, but on the glass marimba I go for an almost arhythmic, tumbledown effect, mirroring the creek waters.The wildlife we hear along the way are the continent’s smallest songbirds: Golden-crowned Kinglets, Pacific Wrens, and Chestnut-backed Chickadees. Ironically, the little creek we hear half way through is an unnamed tributary, not Still Creek itself, which I do not lay eyes or ears on. The trail crosses over this little nameless creek in a pretty setting: crystal clear water pools against a decaying log, the waters slowly meandering through its crosscut. This interesting little scene is what is pictured on the cover. Generally speaking, I try to pair the cover image with the mood of the music. The bright orb of the sun refracting on the water, and the warm glow illuminating the submerged fir needles seemed to match the glimmering synth pads and dark, woody piano in the score.I think the woodwinds add a romantic feel, and I have to say: it did feel romantic with the afternoon light filtering through the canopy. Not in a romance way, but in a, you know, a tender way. Just connecting with the space. Opening up to it. Feeling it. This is a good primer for our next installment, Castle Canyon Soundwalk, which is even more soundscape-forward, featuring a more impressionistic, even experimental score. Very open.For now, enjoy Still Creek Soundwalk. I love the name. (I chose this trail half just because I liked the name, and half because it wasn’t covered with snow.) Thanks again for reading, for listening, for coming along this journey.Still Creek Soundwalk will be available on all streaming platforms (Spotify, Apple, Tidal, Amazon, YouTube…) tomorrow next Friday, May 3. (Oops! I forgot to update my calendar after nudging the date.) This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit chadcrouch.substack.com/subscribe
Timberline Lodge Soundwalk
Apr 22 2024
Timberline Lodge Soundwalk
This is a free preview of a paid episode. To hear more, visit chadcrouch.substack.comTimberline Lodge is a historic alpine lodge constructed in the late 1930s as a project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), high on Mount Hood where the trees thin out and glaciers loom large. Its lobby is dominated by a massive, soaring stone chimney which forms the central pillar of the hexagonal post and beam structure, rising some 40 feet overhead in the main lobby, 92 feet from base to crown.Throughout the building are artworks and handcrafted details of a bygone era. It’s a really special place to while away an hour or two. I went up there for lunch on March 19th after completing a hike lower on the mountain (soon to follow in another soundwalk). I captured a few minutes of audio by the fire and walking around inside the building with the thought that it might make an interesting addition to this Mount Hood series. The mezzanine hosts casual dining, so the ambience is similar to a cafe. Just a couple days ago news broke that a fire broke out at Timberline Lodge. The lodge posted this bulletin:On Thursday night, April 18th, at approximately 9:30pm a fire was reported at Timberline Lodge in the headhouse attic and its exterior roof area. First responders were on scene shortly thereafter, extinguishing the fire by approximately 11:00pm. There is an ongoing investigation as to the cause, but it is suspected fireplace embers ignited the roof.Smoke and fire damage remains confined to the roof, but the extent of water damage isn’t clear. It is perhaps a good sign the Cascade Dining Hall, adjacent the main lobby, opened yesterday for brunch, April 21, 2024.For this vignette-length soundwalk, I worked with an instrument palette I’ve been favoring for recent work with an overall intent to make the score less dominant, and more spacious. I also automated some sound design EQ sweeps to focus on the sound of the smoldering fire in two passages.Thank you for being here. I hope you enjoy Timberline Lodge Soundwalk. I think it’s a charming little piece.
Ramona Falls Soundwalk
Apr 11 2024
Ramona Falls Soundwalk
This is a free preview of a paid episode. To hear more, visit chadcrouch.substack.comRamona Falls lies within the Mt. Hood National Wilderness, near the headwaters of the Sandy River. Volcanic eruptions on Mt. Hood in 1780 created a mudflow. This event inspired the name of the Sandy river, as Lewis and Clark called it [in 1805], "Quicksand River." The name was later changed to the "Sandy River." The Ramona Falls was apparently named by US Forest Service worker John E. Mills in 1933. He named the falls after his late wife, Ramona. -worldatlasThe trail is a roughly seven mile out-and-back or loop option. The northernmost section, trail #797, closely follows Ramona Creek and is in my opinion the prettier and more musical option. You’ll hear my feet scuffling on the coarse sand trail approaching the Sandy River crossing. I cut out the portion of audio crossing the Sandy River because—and this is not intuitive to most people—larger, fast-moving rivers are not intrinsically pleasing to listen to. They’re not bad, but they tend to sound like walls of white noise, often masking wildlife sounds and the acoustics of place. They sound meh. Loud and featureless. Interestingly, because it’s a wilderness area, The Forest Service doesn’t maintain a bridge across The Sandy. The logic is a little convoluted, given they used to have a modular “seasonal bridge”, and there are numerous footbridges crossing Ramona Creek. It may have something to do with a tragic accident in 2014 when a hiker was swept away crossing the seasonal bridge in a flash flood event. His body was found a mile downstream. Was that bridge deemed a safety liability? I can only remember combinations of leaps and shimmying on downed logs to cross it.It must have been 2015 when I made the trip up there with my dad. He told me a story about coming upon a hiking group in distress on the trail above the falls many years before. One of their party had died on from an allergic reaction to a bee sting, of all things. I recall he spoke of spending quite a few hours helping them. I looked for a historical news article for details. I couldn’t find one. The hike to Ramona Falls may be statistically safer than walking on a city street, but something about the remoteness of wilderness frames a wider existential perspective on life and death. Mountains do that. They take you out of yourself for a spell. I will always associate Ramona Falls with the last time I did a day hike with my dad. I distinctly remember the vivid colors of the moss and lichen that day. The clouds were very low and misty, diffusing the low-hanging autumn sun. It was dreamlike. Liminal.This particular day was similar. The clouds lingered, offering occasional showers, but were less prismatic in their density. Red Crossbills winged by overhead. Dark-eyed Juncos foraged on the ground and low in the canopy. Once again, I had a sustained moment with a raven. I love crossing paths with ravens. The focal point of the soundscape is largely Ramona Creek, culminating in an approach to the spectacular falls:What makes it so striking? It’s not tall or awesomely powerful. It’s approachable, decorated with emerald-hued moss, and often dramatically lit from rays of sun filtering through the fir trees. It’s strikingly symmetrical, roughly diamond shaped, and finely textured. Its song is more music than thunder. It’s just a one-of-a-kind waterfall to lay eyes and ears on, and I’m pleased to share it with you!Ramona Falls Soundwalk is available on all streaming platforms (Spotify, Apple, Tidal, Amazon, YouTube…) tomorrow Apr. 12.Lastly, if you didn’t catch them, I recently posted Soundscape podcast episodes of the Total Solar Eclipse (in a stereo image featuring wildlife on the left and humans on the right), and a nice long relaxing recording I made at Pacific Beach, WA a couple weeks ago.
Timothy Lake Soundwalk
Mar 29 2024
Timothy Lake Soundwalk
This is a free preview of a paid episode. To hear more, visit chadcrouch.substack.comIt would be interesting to parse out what we call “lakes” from what are in reality reservoirs. Most of the lakes around here that come to mind are actually reservoirs. After all, natural lakes are just meadow construction sites; their inlet rivers and streams eventually convey enough sediment to fill in the lake beds. Almost all natural lakes are, in this way, ephemeral. In the years shortly before the Timothy Lake reservoir was created by damming the Oak Grove Fork Clackamas River, shepherds seeded the native mix of meadow plants in the area with Timothy Grass. Timothy Meadows became Timothy Lake, and that probably explains the circular shape of the reservoir. Most reservoirs are long and riverine, whereas Timothy is relatively round, suggesting there was a (smaller) lake basin here in the not-too-distant past.Built in the post-war era (completed in 1956) when dam building in the western United States was at a fever pitch, the Timothy Lake Dam (as part of Portland General Electric’s Clackamas River Project) made all the hydro promises: renewable energy, flood control, drinking water, recreation. On the latter it delivered in spades: as the largest body of water in the Mt. Hood Wilderness, its four campgrounds and dispersed camping areas are packed to the gills come summertime. Of course there are downsides of messing with rivers, but I’m not going to get into that now, lest I become labelled a Debbie Downer.This Soundwalk captures Timothy Lake on a crisp October day, when the campgrounds were all closed and only a handful of people were inclined to visit its shores for the day. I had the lakeside trail that leads out to Meditation Point all to myself. On the water I saw Western Grebes, Common Mergansers, and I heard Common Loons in the distance. In the canopy I heard Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Brown Creepers, Golden-crowned Kinglets, and Varied Thrushes, among others. A Raven had something to say to me about half way through, rather insistently it seemed. Above all, a pronounced and spacious quiet reigned. My score focuses on that sense of solitude and tranquility with softly played piano, bell tones, string plucks, woodwinds, and whispering synthesizers. It’s certainly the reigning champ for quietest Chad Crouch soundwalk, for now.As per usual Timothy Lake Soundwalk is available on all streaming platforms (Spotify, Apple, Tidal, Amazon, YouTube…) tomorrow Mar 29th. Thank you for your support. Thank you for being here. Enjoy!
Old Salmon River Trail Soundwalk
Mar 15 2024
Old Salmon River Trail Soundwalk
This is a free preview of a paid episode. To hear more, visit chadcrouch.substack.comWow. Spring seems to have sprung here in the Pacific Northwest! The birds are singing. The sun is out. And while I wasn’t sure how this first soundwalk in a new series would land—given it was recorded last fall—it now seems quite timely!So, let’s start with the series: Over the next ten weeks, maybe more, we will be listening to different locations in the Mt. Hood National Forest, starting with this one along the wild and scenic Salmon River, on the Old Salmon River Trail.Like me, you might ask why is it the Old Salmon River trail? Maybe Tom Kloster has the best explanation at oregonhikers.com:During the height of the post-World War II logging heyday, the Salmon River Road was built along the lower river, bypassing several miles of the old trail that once provided sole access to the upper canyon of the Salmon River. Somehow, the old section of trail paralleling the new road survived the logging era, along with some of the best old growth forests within easy reach of Portland. The trail has since been rediscovered, and once again maintained by the Forest Service for hikers looking for an easy, stream-side ramble.”Now, let me tell you why it seems timely. Firstly, just yesterday Salmon Wars, a new podcast series from Oregon Public Broadcasting and ProPublica, launched with the first two episodes (featuring original music by friends Kele Goodwin and Sean Ogilvie). Secondly, In just a couple of weeks Spring Chinook salmon will return to the lower Columbia River, as they have done for millions of years. For the soundscape recording, I do what I have done a few times in the past, mixing the ambient binaural recording (made with my recording hat) with a “zoomed in” perspective made by dangling mics close to the water and cross-fading between them to suit the sonic narrative and points of interest. (The audio in the following clips is what my phone captured.) Toward the end you can clearly hear the splashing of the salmon as they dance closer to the culmination their lifecycle. This is what that looked like: For the score I’m still digging into synth pads and drones that sound “shimmery” like the water, and warm-hued like the spawning salmon. And I’m still just working in my naive way on the piano. For the quiet “Salmon Spawning Rhapsody” passage I’m using a technique recommended to me by my friend Nick Jaina: basically parking my left hand on one or two root notes in the key while while letting the right cycle hand through a chord progression. Did he call it whole tones? Did I even understand him? Whatever the case, I like what I played. You can hear the salmon splashing for a long stretch in the last third of the soundwalk. A Cornerstone SpeciesThe Spring Chinook will travel into their home rivers and streams in the fall, the Salmon River being one of them. There they will spawn and die; their carcasses will be consumed and broken down into the ecosystem. This transfer of nutrients from the ocean to the forests is what gives salmon the distinction of being a cornerstone species. Not to put too fine a point on it, but “cornerstone” seems to be an operative and accurate description. Without salmon, natural systems break down and we all suffer. All beings.The 2024 Spring Chinook run is forecast at 121,000 fish, 80-some percent of last year’s run. There are four primary salmon types in the Columbia: Chinook, Coho, Sockeye and Steelhead. I won’t get too far into the weeds, but this page offers some facts and historical perspective on the basin, and here’s a video on their lifecycle.The big picture view is that before Euro-Americans arrived, the Columbia River basin produced between 10 and 16 million salmon annually. The total salmon forecast for 2024 is 800,000. Putting that into perspective this chart seems to indicate that number is about average for the past 100 years or so (but worryingly, only 25% of the 2014 return). It would also suggest commercial fishing in the late 19th and early 20th century decimated Columbia River salmon!And so here we are. I’m looking forward to learning more about the subject on Salmon Wars, but even more I’m looking forward to the next time I can be out in the woods, close to these majestic creatures. I hope you enjoy Old Salmon River Trail Soundwalk, which in addition to the Soundwalk podcast for premium subscribers, will be released in its entirety to all platforms tomorrow, Mar 15th. Thank you for being here. Just one more thing: If you like what I do, please tell just one person about it, so I can continue to make connections and keep doing what I’m doing.
Frenchman's Bar Soundwalk
Feb 28 2024
Frenchman's Bar Soundwalk
This is a free preview of a paid episode. To hear more, visit chadcrouch.substack.comThe conclusion to the five-part Lower Columbia River soundwalk series brings us back to the Washington shoreline, three miles upriver from where we last visited, at a place called Frenchman’s Bar. Though it takes an hour by car to drive from Willow Bar to Frenchman’s Bar, they are literally just around the corner from each other on the water. And of course, this is how the birds experience it. Sandhill Cranes, Snow Geese, Canada Geese and others often overnight on Sauvie’s Island and forage by day across the river in The Vancouver Lowlands. There are plenty of opportunities to capture fly-bys and fly-overs in field recordings here, but there is also plenty of competition in the soundscape from industrial sources. In addition to the planes, trains, and autos, you’ll often hear hulking cargo ships chugging by. If you listen closely you’ll hear a crew pounding on the hull of one such ship in the distance, close to the end of our soundwalk. I left it in, half because it was an interesting sound, and half because there’s only so much noise one can get rid of without messing it up. Incidentally, I also left in the subtle sound of me setting up a stationary recording rig. I’ll share that field recording next week on Soundscape, the companion podcast to Soundwalk, all linked up with this Substack newsletter. I visualize it like an H2O atom! And maybe now is a good time to catch you up, since I don’t send emails as often as I’m posting. Recently I shared A Brief History of Soundwalks, taking a look at a couple examples of soundwalks, new and old, and arriving at a tentative answer to the question what is a soundwalk? (In the words of Christopher Robin, "It means just going along, listening to all the things you can't hear and not bothering.”) Also, I shared a soundwalk through the Black Artists of Oregon Exhibit at Portland Art Museum and field recordings of the charming American Dipper at Wildwood and some Trumpeter Swans and allies at Ridgefield NWR. Subscribers enjoy 5 min excerpts while premium subscribers get the complete recordings (10-90 min). Available in your podcast app and here.For the Frenchman’s Bar Soundwalk score I used a lot of the same voices that we’ve been hearing in this batch. In particular, I try to follow the swells of sound from the abundant geese and cranes with synth pads and vibrating drones. This time I swap out the electric pianos for the intimacy and warmth of an acoustic piano and celeste. It’s both quiet and loud; a dynamic outing!Frenchman’s Bar was named by Donald and David Scherruble who grew up in the area, heirs to the 120 acre farm that would become Frenchman’s Bar Park in the late 1990’s. The Scherrubles listened to their colorful "Old Frenchman" neighbor speak of his adventures when they were kids on the farm. Don Hamilton penned this story with an ear for the brothers’ lively storytelling for The Oregonian September 9, 1985:Frenchman's Bar really has a French connection. That connection is the late Paul Haury, a Frenchman who once deserted a doomed ship,Well before the turn of the century Haury, then 15, was an apprentice river pilot in France hoping to make his living on the sea. He signed on as a cabin boy on a wooden saling ship bound for Vancouver, British Columbia, via Cape Horn. It was to pick up a load of lumber and take it to the Sandwich Islands, now known as Hawaii. But the cabin boy who hoped to make his life sailng was treated poorly."He jumped ship, he did," David Scherruble said. "He used to come to the house and tell my mom and dad about how there was this big old hollow cedar tree and he hid in it while the searchers (from the ship) looked for him. They walked right past him, they did, and didn't even see him. That's the story he told."After about three days the searchers gave up the hunt for their cabin boy and set off for Hawaii. In mid-Pacific the ship hit a fierce storm and went down with all hands.For five years Haury's parents in France believed he was dead. By the time he wrote to tell them he hadn’t perished, he had made his way north from Vancouver and was working as a commercial fisherman in Alaska.In 1915 Haury bought five or six acres along the Columbia and moved to the Vancouver area…Interestingly, Haury, who died in 1937 while in his 70s, never saw the stretch of beach named for him. The bar was created by dredge spoils when the Columbia River channel was deepened by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the late 1940s.It might also be worth mentioning that Frenchman’s Bar is about a mile upriver from Tena Bar, which in 1980 provided a break in the infamous D.B. Cooper skyjacking mystery. A kid found $5800 in bundles of decomposing cash in the sand. Serial numbers on the bills matched those in the $200,000 ransom. (Funny how that seems like not so much today.) How did these bundles end up buried in the sand at Tena Bar? The FBI put a lot of energy into trying to answer that question but apparently few definitive conclusions could be drawn. There is absolutely no shortage of conjecture online. In 2020, a scientist ruled out quite a few timeline scenarios by testing the bills for diatoms. “Because the bills only had one season of diatoms on them, and did not have diatoms that bloom in the winter, Kaye theorizes that the money came out of the water and landed on the bank of Tena Bar after only a few weeks or months.”Today the Tena Bar area, bound by a sand and gravel company, has No Trespassing signs posted every 10 meters. Well, I guess that’s about it for this one. Thanks for being here with me.
Willow Bar Beach Soundwalk
Feb 16 2024
Willow Bar Beach Soundwalk
Our five-part experience on the Columbia resumes on the shoreline. We are still on Sauvie Island, walking along the beach of a wooded peninsula called Willow Bar Beach. It’s a cool late October morning. The wave action is the wake of small, medium and large ocean-going ships, their lumbering mechanical sounds out of earshot on the far side of the river where the channel runs deep. The wildlife is distant so there is more room for my musical score. Consequently, almost the whole way through there are synthesizer drones that just kind of glow and oscillate slowly like embers in a fire, like the rising and falling of the water, the breaking and ebbing waves. The soundscape in our soundwalk is edited to effect a pre-industrial, quieter time. I’m very curious about that long-gone history, those old ways.A Culture Nearly Washed AwayLast time I wrote about how Sauvie Island was once a cradle of indiginous civilization, perhaps more densely populated than any other Native American site on the continent. Archeologists speculate that the Portland Basin could have once been the home of 30-40,000 Native Americans in the 1700’s. When Lewis and Clark came back up the river in 1806 they estimated the Sauvie Island population of some 2400 persons, and described Multnomah as the “remains of a large nation”. This was over decade after the introduction of small pox to the region from the first white traders on the west coast. Within 30 years the island was almost entirely depopulated following waves of malaria. Nevertheless the Chinookan culture survived, and though their tribe is not federally recognized, the diaspora are alive and well with tribe members living in Bay Center, Chinook and Ilwaco in Washington state, and Astoria and Grande Ronde in Oregon, among other places.Willow Bar has only recently joined the mass of Sauvie Island. It was an island group in in the early 1900’s Clan-nah-quah was the name given to a village on the south end of the channel separating Willow Bar, about a mile north of Multnomah (máɬnumax̣), the largest village on Sauvie Island.In their “Estimate of the Western Indians”, Lewis and Clark observed: “Mult-no-mah Tribe reside on Wap-pa-tow Island [Sauvie Island] in the mouth of the Multnomah [Willamette River], the remains of a large nation, 6 houses, probable number of souls, 800. Clan-nah-quah’s tribe of Multnomah’s on Wappato Island below the Multnomars, 4 houses, probable number of souls, 130.” The Clan-nah-quah site is now nearly all washed away, only a bank of broken camp rock on the river shore marks the place. Stone Age of The Columbia (1959)Camp rock, AKA fire-cracked rock, FCR, fire-affected rock, or FAR, is not conspicuous to most folks. It looks like ordinary rock to me. Archeologists spot it on many a Columbia River shoreline as a vestigial reminder of native peoples’ inhabitation. These cracked stones and fragments are the result of years of being heated in a fire by humans for cooking and providing a longer lasting heat source. Maps seem to suggest accretion along the shoreline, not erosion, The lumpy sandy landscape near Willow Bar suggests the channel was plugged with dredge spoils sometime in the last 50 years. [Around 1960, actually.] I’m no archeologist but I’m curious to know more. I read a 2021 doctoral student’s 300 page thesis project regarding Sauvie Islands’ western shore, wherein the author discovered 8 unrecorded archeological sites, 3 of which were determined to have “high archeological value”. I think it’s probably important to clarify here that high archeological value means in a nutshell is that the site may contain a multi-decade, or even multi-century refuse pile called a midden. When excavated carefully, a midden can tell a layer-by-layer story of the human habitation. It does not in all likelihood mean that there is a beautiful stone sculpture slumbering away in the soil. Still, Sauvie’s Island has a record of artifact discovery that conjures the imagination. The Portland Art Museum mounted a show in 1952 entitled Prehistoric Stone Sculpture of the Pacific Northwest. More recently, in 2005, an even bigger collection was assembled for the People of The River exhibition. (The show produced a sizable book.) It’s more or less a once in a generation event to see these sculptures in one room. Hence, the story of the Native American artists of Sauvie Island, and more generally the Chinookan tribes of the Lower Columbia is not well known.Of course, in piecing together the story, it doesn’t help that early settlers and relic hunters plundered sites, hoarding and selling artifacts to private collectors before laws prohibited such activity on public lands. Assembling enough pieces from institutional and private collections to mount an exhibition is a daunting task.An interesting story, which reads like lore, comes from amateur archeologist Emory Strong:There is an interesting and well authenticated story about one of the collections made on Sauvies Island. One of the early settlers built his home on the deserted site of one of the larger villages. In clearing the land numerous artifacts were found, and the wash from passing steam-boats and the yearly flood eroded more from the banks.This man picked up and saved the best of them and eventually accumulated a large collection of exceptionally fine stone and bone carvings and chipped pieces. Growing old and not wanting his collection to become dispersed, and as there was then no local museum to donate it to, he buried it in one of his fields. There it yet lies, the best single private collection of Indian work in the west. Some day it may again erode from the bank. Stone Age of The Columbia (1959)Hmm. Not sure how much stock to put into that. On a somewhat related note, though, just a couple days ago I saw this stone bowl on display at the Grande Ronde Chachalu Museum and Cultural Center:There were several very old baskets and woven pieces, three small possibly pre-contact carvings on display, but this was the only larger stone sculpture piece on display. I asked the woman at the front desk about it. She said it was found at a dump. Huh? She didn’t have any other details to offer. But as I thought more about it, there was a village site on the Columbia Slough near the old St. Johns Landfill in north Portland (now capped with a prairie habitat). Could that be the dump in this story? Or perhaps it was a variation on the old an it fell off the back of a truck line accompanying repatriation of an illegally collected relic? A mystery… This is a public episode. If you’d like to discuss this with other subscribers or get access to bonus episodes, visit chadcrouch.substack.com/subscribe
Black Artists of Oregon Soundwalk
Feb 12 2024
Black Artists of Oregon Soundwalk
This is a free preview of a paid episode. To hear more, visit chadcrouch.substack.comOn February 1st I took in the dual exhibition Africa Fashion & Black Artists of Oregon at the Portland Art Museum. I have to admit it was a darned good idea, particularly on First Thursday when the museum offered free admission. It was a nice change of pace for an outing, and the place was hoppin’! At 10am there was a line of 50 or so folks cued up, and before long high schoolers on a field trip were streaming in. The exhibits were terrific.I keep my binaural recording headphones in my coat pocket, and though I had no intention to make any recordings there, the chatter was so bubbly and reverberant, I thought it might make for an interesting sound portrait. It’s worth pointing out that I’m mindful to avoid eavesdropping in a situation like this; instead, aiming for the macro effect, a murmuration of voices.As I often do, I used post production edits to accentuate moods and textural shifts. I was going to incorporate percussive rhythm in the compositions, but abandoned that as it started to feel a bit dominant and busy. The instrumentation is very much in line with my sound palette of late. The bright zither plays against the low tones of the Wurlitzer electric piano in a way I really like. Synthesizers add texture and atmosphere.For about a decade, from 1997 to 2007 or so, I identified primarily as a visual artist; a painter, to be precise. I worked in batches. I exhibited in mixed-use spaces: coffee joints, restaurants, furniture stores and home goods boutiques. One of the series that I became know for was a simple, flat figurative style. Think Jacob Lawrence meets Alberto Giacometti. In the early years the figures were uniformly dark red in color, and were always painted without facial features. I have continued to create work in this vein for the nonprofit Friends of The Children for over 25 years now. For the last 15 years they are the only client I continue to break out the brushes for.Well, back in 1997 I had one of the mentors (“friends”) stop by my studio on NE MLK Jr. Boulevard with a couple younger girls (who were black). When one of them rounded the corner and got one look at me her eyes widened, her mouth formed an O, and she covered her mouth with her hand. She thought she was coming to see a black artist! (I am white.) I will never forget the look on her face. She could not disguise her shock that artist behind the paintings she had seen was white. I laughed, but was a little thrown off by it. I don’t really recall the details of our conversation, but the experience stuck with me. It’s not really a story I’ve told before, but it I turned it over in my mind. This exhibition, and the large photo wallpapered on the museum wall (on the album cover) reminded me of that experience.Some years later, for a number of reasons, I began painting different skin tones rather than the default dark red. Admittedly, in retrospect I preferred the red, which harkened back to the inspiration for the style: sculpting with red clay.