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SLOW SAND RIVER WHISPERS




A week or so ago I returned to the Rillito River as part of the Rillito River Sounding project to compose and play new works utilizing the materials found there.

Previously I'd worked with a segment of river located between the
Campbell and Dodge bridges . For this session I chose to explore the area between the Swan and Craycroft bridges.
 
This stretch of dry river bed has undergone some heavy development within the past decade, but it also retains a more natural state in places, if it is possible for there to be anything "natural" about a river sucked underground by human consumption.

The debris field from buildings falling into the river during times of flood is less here, and the plentiful patches of brush and reeds
growing near the banks are filled with birds.

For the composition part of this work I first investigated the properties of the materials at hand.

I brought neither sticks nor bow with me.

Instead I used sand and water worn wood for mallets and a variety of branches that once bore seeds as brushes and scrapers.

I also used my bare hands.

Each object was selected based on the sounds they offered and how they could be integrated into a
singular performance titled: OPUS 39
.


Initially I had planned to work solely with the sounds of the dry river bed, but after the first session a winter storm  brought rain and snow.
 
In no time the Rillito was running above ground and her voice/ presence
became a vital component of the work. 

So I set out to make recordings of the river in locations I thought interesting based on rhythmic and acoustic patterns.

One wonderful discovery
was the correlation between the Rillito's liquidly lyrical bass line and the warm deep end acoustics a termite worn pile of wood made when percussed.

Many of the instruments played were "prepared" by the Rillito herself
: scoured by sand and bent by water.

 

For those who have never heard it, the Rillito River's voice when it flows is powerfully joyous as the voice of all desert rivers should be.

A few of the tracks presented here are simple duets between myself and the Rillito.

It was an honor to have her show up for the sessions and sit in for a few tunes.
 
Two days after the river flowed it was gone again, sucked back beneath the earth to serve Tucson's water needs.

On a morning following a light frost, I found myself at dawn on the drying river bed, searching for the sound of what might be left of the river. 

If you've never done it, looking for a river that is there one day/ gone the next is quite surreal.

The sand over which it had run told tales of the flow: firm in some places, deep sucking slow sand mud in others.
 
In some places the mud quaked beneath my feet like pudding and I wondered how wise it was to be out on the flats.

Even the coyotes had yet to venture out and leave their prints.

  

Cold, tired, and saddened by the Rillito's disappearance, trying to avoid pockets of clawing slow sand, I finally spied what was left of the river, steam rising off her back in the morning glow. 

All that remained was a thin stream of water, her above ground forward flow finished, and what remained seeming to retreat into the mountains.

I dug a hole where the flow terminated.

The hole instantly filled with water as I inserted a hydrophone made from two Piezo discs attached back-to-back and encased in rubber.

Listening though my headphones with the hydrophone's signal amplified greatly,

the Rillito River's voice was down to a whisper.

She'd become a ghost river passing through sand, dislodging a grain here and there, heard on the recordings as occasional clicks.
 
This is the same river that days before tore at the banks and leapt into the air.

The same river that appears in faded sepia stained photographs from nearly 150 years ago, lazily drifting past groves of cottonwood trees and
lingering in reeds.

I know the Rillito is just biding her time.

Nothing lasts forever.

For now she may be a prisoner of consumption, contained underground, shackled by pumps and wells.

But do not be fooled.

It takes only a few good storms to set her free.

And when she returns I hope we will have a chance to play.

I look forward to hearing what the Rillito has to say.