Two Weeks in Alert Bay
Hein Schoer, cultural soundscape producer and the prime mover behind the research project “The Sounding Museum,” inaugurates the CD series with a captivating meditation on the Native community of Alert Bay, British Columbia. It's more than a sound portrait of the physical activities in play on a given day—construction work being done, children being taught, and so forth—as it also focuses on the myths (about the raven and creator entity U'melth, for instance) and ritual dances and chants that are so much an inextricable part of the West Coast community's culture. In one sense, the work documents the people's ongoing attempt to strike a balance between the modern and traditional in their lives.
After opening with the croak of the titular bird, “One Day in the Life of Raven (Full Version)” assumes the form of a long-form travelogue through the Pacific Northwest Coast. Schoer fashions it as a work in four movements (“The Natural Soundscape,” “The Artificial Soundscape,” “The Human Soundscape,” “The Cultural Soundscape & Spirit World”) that begins with arrival at the site, followed by sound samplings of the natural landscape (rushing waters, wind, woodpeckers, drizzle, fire) and those made by residents of the locale (drum chants, conversations, an elementary class in session) heard against a backdrop of radio music (a Rod Stewart cover of “Street Fighting Man”) and construction noise (hammering, drilling, fishing). “The Spirit World movement,” not surprisingly, turns out to be the most arresting section due to the ritual chants and calls that emerge, but the piece as a whole—especially when it never stays in one place for long—holds one's attention throughout the trip. Despite its forty-two-minute length, the piece comes across as a captivating sound portrait of a vibrant community with deep roots in spirit culture and story-telling and connections to the landscape.
Two shorter edits accompany the CD's primary work. “Four Worlds (Workshop Edit)” re-assembles the original's elements into a half-sized version that feels comparatively more fragmented and experimental, the focus less on coherent narrative and more on collage-like design. Overlapping conversations emerge amidst car noises, bird caws, radio tunes, fireplace crackle, phone rings, drilling and wood hammering, and chants. Predictably, the six-minute “Short Trip (Walk-In Edit)” offers a mere snapshot of the original, though it does convey the character of the original at a micro-level. In essence, the edits are purely supplementary to the full version.
The release comes with a booklet whose text (written by Schoer) provides detailed background about the project as well as documentation about the sound sources used in the recording. Enhancing our understanding of what is heard during the work, the text identifies the various locales that are visited, such as the U'mista Cultural Centre, where a language class, dance performance, and Raven Song rehearsal take place, and the T'lisalagi'lakw Native School, where a fourth/fifth grade science class is heard in session. The project as a whole succeeds in allowing the listener previously unfamiliar with the site to feel as if he/she has come to be more enlightened about its character and spirit following the immersive experiences of listening to the work and absorbing the booklet's text.