Cimarron spent the week of September 10-16th, 2017 with us, immersed in Houston Co. Minnesota's human and physical geography. He traveled to our corner of Driftless Minnesota from Victoria, British Columbia and during his time collected over 80 rich field recordings and images. This is the behind-the-scenes story his aural and visual experience. (Note: we encourage to enjoy this entry with headphones. Most of the recordings were made with a binaural microphone, so there is a great spatial effect when listening through them.)
Greetings! It has been two months since the Driftless welcomed me as the fourth and final inaugural citizen artist in residence. As I write this post, I reflect back and relive my experiences while reviewing the myriad of sounds and images I collected during the week. As I describe the experience with family and friends, one question I am often asked is, “How did you find out about the residency?”
It was a blog with a particular affection for cabins that promoted the call for citizen artists inviting chefs, bloggers, philosophers, and geographers, among other creative types to apply. Geographers! That the Driftless is a glacial refugia made the residency even more intriguing. An opportunity to blend my creative practice and training as a geographer was one I could not let slip by.
The drive from MSP began close to sunset with the wide-open landscape a welcome reminder of my childhood growing up on the Canadian prairies. The full moon was spectacular as I turned off of Interstate 90 and sensed the nose of the vehicle drop into the darkness of the Driftless. I meandered along a gravel road up the side of a bluff to Crystal Creek Canyon Lodge where Erin, Taylor, and a chorus of crickets and katydids welcomed me to the reconstructed hand hewn cabin I would call home.
The following day I partially retraced my travels to meet Whitewater State Park Lead Interpretive Naturalist, Sarah Holger. The daylight revealed the bluffs, farms, and fields of corn. Oh my, plenty of corn! First stop, Baristas, for caffeine to fuel my day. I spent the afternoon hiking along the Middle Fork Whitewater River and other parts of the park making the first of many audio recordings and photographs.
I was keen to explore and experience as much of the region as I could and in doing so, I put more miles on the rental car in a week than I would in a month at home! I marveled at the patterns in the landscape and visited pretty much every town in the region. While exploring the main streets and back lanes capturing sounds and images there were many random chats with curious residents wondering why I was wearing earmuffs in the late summer heat. This was a great springboard for conversations about being a citizen artist and the practice of field recording.
While exploring the streets and back lanes, I was not only in search of images and sounds, but also making observations about rural and small town life. In discussions with local folks, I heard about some of the economic challenges and desire to revitalize Houston. This caused me to reflect on my professional work, which focuses on the built environment; mainly urban, but also rural regions. And although situated in different countries and geographic regions, there are certain parallels of the unique characteristics and challenges facing rural British Columbia. I tend to revisit the same rural areas on Vancouver Island and spending time in the the Driftless inspired me to explore new rural areas of the province on my bucket list.
It was unseasonably hot and humid and I could sense the imminent need to harvest the crops before the weather shifted. It was about the middle of the week when the morning sky draped a foggy blanket across the landscape. Relief from the heat soon followed as rain gently fell, dampening the chorus of cicadas, altering pattern of sound through the forest, and revealing the call and response of birds.
I was pleased to host a meet and greet as well as a field recording workshop, where I made several connections with folks from throughout the Driftless. And although the two events amounted to several hours of engagement, upon reflection, I wish I had more time to get to know people and to spend more time in the field.
Earlier in the week I enjoyed a one-on-one meeting with Karla Bloom of the International Owl Center discussing recording techniques. I visited Ashleigh and Cody Bartz and was inspired by the unique design of their tiny home. I was especially grateful for the invitation to explore Diane and Bets’ sheep farm and to visit with their family over dinner in the outdoor covered porch. I would also meet Sara Holger again later in the week for a tour of Forest Mystery Caves – I’m still very sorry for getting lost and arriving late! Thank you to all of the other folks I met during workshop and throughout the residency!
Depending on the application, I often prefer to not have any evidence of human activity when recording in a natural setting, which is increasingly difficult in the Anthropocene. During the workshop I observed how participants new to field recording were unfazed by the nearby sounds of cars or machinery. This caused me to question my approach and notions of authenticity when making a recording at a given locale. With this in mind, some of the recordings of natural spaces presented in this reflection include the distant drone of vehicles, airplanes, or machinery.
Meeting so many wonderful people was great, but I knew I would regret not spending at least one afternoon at the cabin. After spending a morning with Erin touring her favorite haunts of the Rooster Valley and South Fork, I returned to the cabin to soak in the sounds of Crystal Creek tricking below the back porch and the many sounds of the vibrant forest. I photographed the patina-drenched artifacts and listened to the Beatles and Talking Heads on the turntable. By nightfall, the chorus of crickets and katydids was in full force!
During part of the afternoon at the cabin, I paused collecting sounds and images and sat on the back porch with a cold beer and reflected on the mid-point of the residency. Sometimes the constraint of time forces me to work quickly, but it also does not allow time for exploration and experimentation. A week away from work to be completely immersed in my creative practice was precisely what I needed and the residency delivered.
Despite this, the classic artist’s inner dialogue questioning art and what it means to be an artist crept into my thoughts. But this niggling moment of uncertainty quickly shifted to the desire to review the volume of photos and audio clips and plan for which locales I would explore the following day. I felt I had seen a lot of the region, but knew there was more to explore and there were locales I wished to return to gather more material. I’m not at all superstitious, but the fortune from a cookie at Lotus in Minneapolis put a smile on my face and is attached to my computer monitor as a reminder to stay true to my ‘deep interest in all that is artistic’.
This reflection present but a snippet of the work collected and more will be posted to my website and Tumblr in the coming weeks. I look forward to bringing together the work of my fellow citizen artists for a collaborative capstone event in April 2018. Watch this space!
Although I was able to collect a lot of material, I feel as though my work in the region is not yet complete. Perhaps one day I will return to engage with the fine people of the Driftless and explore locales I was unable to visit this time around.
I especially want to thank Erin, Taylor, and Maple for opening their special cabin on the bluff, and the Houston Arts Resource Council for supporting the residency. Thank you all for participating!
All text, photos, and audio by Cimarron Corpé.