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  • Nathan Yoder

Soundwalking Portland

Portlanders tend not to be sedentary by nature, but during these pandemic days, responsible members of our once-active community have found themselves hunkered down at home more often than they are accustomed. This abrupt lifestyle adjustment has produced so many side effects (both physical and mental) for these folks who enjoy spending time out-and-about, and social life as it once existed in this city still seems a ways off.

For the cross-section of active Portlanders who also immerse themselves in the local art scene, It's been a double adjustment. But fortunately, Third Angle New Music is here for you. And by you I mean us. They are here for us. Beginning last November, and running well into 2021, the contemporary arts organization is presenting a series of "soundwalks" - guided adventures across the city's parks, led by local artists. Soundwalks are released on the fifteenth of each month so they can be safely appreciated as the seasons unfold, and to see a complete schedule of parks and artists, visit the Third Angle's site.

Because two soundwalks have been made available already, I set out to experience both of them in early January. Read on to see what each was like for me, and then find information on the next walk at the close, right above the photo gallery.

Mt. Tabor is a park I often frequent due its close proximity to my home, so I was very excited to learn that it was the location of Third Angle's first soundwalk. On New Years day I trudged to the north entrance to the massive city park, and as narrators Branic Howard and Gabi Lewton-Leopold instructed, began to climb a steep series of stairs.

This hour-long guided walk circled the park, and while the route never reached Tabor's iconic peak, it did include quite a bit of elevation change. The up-and-down was welcome, though, on a cold and drizzly winter afternoon. Over the course of the walk, the narration wove together interviews of park-goers and their memories on Tabor. Some stories were lighthearted, others were heavy, but all spoke to the park as a special oasis in Southeast Portland. Perhaps the highlight of the walk was witnessing a hawk catch and eat some small mammal at the upper reservoir, right after an interviewee described a similar scene. It was really quite perfect! Another favorite part of this walk was visiting corners I had never seen, though I consider the park a familiar space. As Mt. Tabor is rather immense, many paths lie within its boundaries, and I am so glad that Howard and Lewton-Leopold chose the unique route that they did. This particular soundwalk made me excited to try another the very next morning.

So early the next day I set off for Tanner Springs Park, nestled between condos and new businesses in the Pearl. While Mt. Tabor is a huge green space, Tanner Springs takes up only one city block, and this geography required a much different pace and overall mindset. At the corner of 10th and Marshall, Yuan-Chen Li began her 40-minute musical walk titled Sonic Sedimentation.

It was fitting to experience this walk in the driving rain, as water is a central theme in the park's narrative. A diverted stream bisects the park, and the artist asks the listener to position themselves in six specific locations as she overlays scenes with musical accompaniment. So in comparison to the Tabor soundwalk, this one was much slower and more meditative. This walk was also wordless, the artist instead opting for instrumental music created for each of the six positions. It was beautiful to hear strings, piano, and electronic melodies over city sounds and bubbling water, and quite calming in a world filled with noise. At the end of the 40-minute meditation, I returned to my car absolutely soaked, but grateful for the opportunity to slow down, if only for a moment.

Third Angle's first two soundwalks felt different from each other, but both were beautiful in their own way. And, FYI, the next is out in just a few days! On January 15th, Amenta Abioto takes us to north to Whitaker Ponds Nature Park, and all the information you need about that specific walk can be found here. Finally, a big thanks to Third Angle and musicians involved in keeping us Portlanders safe, active, and connected to local arts. These soundwalks are truly moments to cherish each month.


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