A Dip in the Lake

On October 12, 2007, at Judson Church in New York City, as the opening event of Ear to the Earth 2007, William Blakeney, Gayle Young, and George Boski performed in the New York premiere of John Cage's Dip in the Lake, scored for the City of Toronto.

 
According to composer Peter Gena, A Dip in the Lake was inspired by a suggestion from Chicago Magazine and composer Raymond Wilding-White, in 1976. The original graphic score (which consists of a map of Chicago with a spider web of superimposed co-ordinates) is now in the permanent collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.
 
The mental image evoked by the composition is a summer band concert by the lake, with a brass band playing a selection of short instrumental pieces for the amusement of the crowd.
 
The score consists of a list of 427 locations divided into 10 groups of 2 (Quicksteps), 61 groups of 3 (Waltzes) and 56 groups of 4 (Marches). Record makers or performers wishing to undertake a realization of the piece, are instructed to attend at these locations and make audio recordings of what they encounter. These may be random sound events or involve a performance of some sort.
 
Mr. Gena has provided a very helpful account of how the score was adapted for a famous 1982 live performance on a boat docked on the Chicago lakefront: "We decided to house this area premiere in the SS Clipper. Therefore, the environmental sounds from the specified intersections were recorded on magnetic tape. To manage the playback of these sounds, John suggested that I follow the instructions to Rozart Mix (a tape collage written for Alvin Lucier and the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, 1965). The directions indicate that we make tape loops after cutting the recorded tapes into numerous pieces of varying lengths (from tiny fragments up to five inches)."

 
dip_sittingstill_okThe audience at Judson Church, October 12, 2007, sitting quietly as the music begins

 
Sound sample recorded according to the Toronto score

 
dip_moving_okThe audience starting to move as the music continues

 

Notes on this performance

The Greater Toronto Area (widely abbreviated as the GTA) is the most populous metropolitan area in Canada. It has a population of more than 6 million people according to the 2006 census. The Greater Toronto Area is the 6th largest metropolitan area in North America. In addition to the City of Toronto, it includes the Regional Municipalities of York, Halton, Peel and Durham.
 
Large stretches of the GTA remain farmland and forests, including protected sections of the Oak Ridges Moraine, Rouge Park and the Niagara Escarpment. While these areas are protected by a law protecting the “Greenbelt”, suburban developments continue to encroach near ecologically sensitive and protected areas.
 
The recordings in this performance were made between 2003 and 2007 by William Blakeney, Gayle Young and George Boski. The representative samplings were done on land and in the water across the GTA and assembled using the I Ching or “Book of Changes.”
 
The random selection of addresses resulted in a number of locations with unexpectedly humorous names - examples being the Purple Pig Bar & Grill, Hello Hair Boutique, the Beaver Fishery Company, Boris the Friendly Butcher, the Hollywood Tickle Trunk etc. We were surprised by the frequency of locations with silly names.
 
After consulting the I Ching, we decided that these peculiar locations would supply the tape loops to be used in the “Quicksteps“.
 
In a similar manner, we drew an inordinate number of locations that were in immediate proximity to Lake Ontario. In the GTA, huge tracks of development snake along the shore, from Burlington in the West, to Newtonville in the East. It involves at least 90 miles of waterfront, possibly more.
 
Our second consultation with the I-Ching suggested that these recordings should form the backbone of the project. These tape loops, which make up the Waltzes represent Tui / The Joyous, Lake.
 
The remaining recordings, made during expeditions to the outer suburbs of the City, make up the source material for the Marches.
 
Despite pro quality tape recorders and stereo microphones, sometimes background rumble and noise will mean that only a few seconds of a location will be usable. In others, a location suggested loops or excerpts lasting five minutes or more. The sounds that emerge in a mix are a deafening roar of traffic, nature, chatter, comedy, percussion, found music and electronics.
 
In some instances, the samples were left untouched and represent the exact urban soundscapes that we encountered. In other instances, randomly selected tape loops were processed through analog modules similar to those used in Cage’s collaborations with Joel Chadabe and David Tudor. Tape loops were fed through the voltage controlled filters, frequency shifter, ring modulator, clipper and voltage controlled reverb of a vintage Moog modular synthesizer.
 
Otherwise, we will be strictly following the suggestions that John Cage provided to the participants in the 1982 Chicago performance.
 
The original instructions were that the loops were to be played simultaneously on at least twelve portable tape machines, each with a built in loudspeaker. The performance involved the deployment of 88 tape loops, corresponding to the keys on a piano. One operator per machine would maintain, repair and exchange the loops, while present at an assigned station on the boat. The audience was encouraged to move about from station to station in order to experience the variety of sound collages.
 
For the present performance, we have the great advantage of modern digital playback equipment - specifically customized DJ CD units, which allow the performer to switch between tape loops, manipulate the pitch or create additional sub-loops on the fly. It is possible to play back the twelve channels simultaneously through independent loudspeakers with a much wider dynamic range and the ability to randomly "shuffle" the loops.
 
As with any band concert, the performance lasts until the audience or the performers lose interest!

Notes by William Blakeney