Hearing the music of the open road

September 11, 2014 | Young Voices
Rachel Bergen | Young Voices Co-editor

On their 20-day cycling trip from Bemidji, Minn., to Waterloo, Ont., earlier this year, Jami Reimer and Thomas Krause heard the chorus of bullfrogs, birds and rushing water. These melodies stood in stark contrast with the thunder of cars and trucks on the highways.

The two band mates travelled around the Great Lakes through the United States to Conrad Grebel University College in order to attend the Sound in the Land 2014 music conference this spring, at which participants explored music and the environment through new Mennonite perspectives.

Reimer and Krause, who play together in a band called Alanadale, contributed an experimental music composition entitled “Listening Exercise No. 1.” They created it along their trip by recording as they cycled and when they stopped to take in the scenery.

“We took all these sound samples and mixed it into a soundscape,” Reimer, 23, explains. “It was a musical project. We took pitch and rhythm from the soundscape to make something that was cohesive,” Reimer, of Grace Mennonite Church in Brandon, Man., is a recent graduate of the Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) music program.

Krause, 25, whose home congregation is Langley Mennonite Fellowship in B.C., graduated from CMU’s communications and media program last spring. His background in audio production and editing, as well as his interest in cycling and the environment, got him excited about the project.

Krause is interested in making original, experimental music. He was involved in performing a piece called “Geräschbiest” at the New Music Festival in Winnipeg two years ago. The piece was written for instruments that were built by his brother and him. Krause also writes original music with Alanadale.

The new seven-minute soundscape was another opportunity for Krause and Reimer to do something different.

“It’s not a two-minute song in 4:4 time that’s 120 beats per minute,” Krause says of “Listening Exercise No. 1.” “It’s recognizable and hasn’t been written a million times already. It doesn’t fit into a box.”

Call for volunteers

The duo received positive feedback for their project at the conference.

“People found the soundscape moving to listen to,” says Reimer. “The keynote speaker, R. Murray Schafer [a well-known Canadian composer], came out to our presentation and really liked it, which was encouraging.”

Their journey itself was an ear- and eye-opening experience. Krause and Reimer decided they wouldn’t listen to any recorded music for the nearly three weeks on the road so they could focus on the sounds around them.

“It’s really refreshing to not have things distracting you all the time, and just being present with all these beautiful sounds,” Krause says. “I found myself being more irritated by anthropogenic noise than I was before. I think I became more mindful of the noise that’s polluting the sounds I want to hear. . . . I was concerned the trip was going to be really boring, but I didn’t even notice it.”

Another requirement of their journey was relying on their ears and their audio recorders, instead of cameras, to capture the experience. “Listening Experiment No. 1” became not only a meditation on the environment, but a musical souvenir of the cycle trip.

“We have sounds of waves lapping on the shore in Bemidji, Minn., and it takes me back there,” Krause says. “I don’t think it would be significant to anyone but Jami and I.”

“We wanted the journey to be the musical artifact, a sound testimony in and of itself,” Reimer says, adding that the quiet and the intentional listening made the trip a prayerful experience: “Cycling and intentional sound awareness and exercise gives way to a lot of meditation. It was an exercise in meditation and stillness, which comes in contrast with the busyness of life and school.”

Reimer and Krause hope to present “Listening Experiment No. 1” in Winnipeg this month.

--Posted Sept. 11, 2014

For more on the Sound in the Land event, see the story, Music and the Environment—a Locavore Feast for Ears and Soul. 

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