March 27, 2007

Ucross #11 - weathered

Turns out the weather here isn't always pleasant. Last night when I was walking around outside (on an overt mission) I could see some amazing flashes of lightning to the southwest. They lit up the overcast sky, shining through the clouds, but it must have been far away because I didn't hear any thunder. I made it back to the Schoolhouse before the rain began, but today everything seems to have passed, and when I woke up, the sun was shining for our exciting Ranch Tour. 10AM, sharp. I actually really like inclement weather. Thunderstorms, rain, generally agitated nature gives me an appreciation for the vast power outside of me. Being humbled somewhat frequently is a good thing in my book. And this is lucky because much more weather is headed our way right now.

Today, my cabin almost blew away. It was quite remarkable; the doors kept on blowing open and sucking shut and sometimes the whole cabin would shudder and make me think of unsuspecting witches. Back when I sailed competitively in college, we used to say that it was blowing like stink, and sometimes even like snot, but since I can't remember which one is higher on the Beaufort scale, I'm not going to choose. Suffice it to say that it's windy. Yeah, really windy.

And on top of that, I heard we are supposed to get one to two FEET of snow in the mountains tonight and tomorrow, but no one seems to know whether or not that will translate into much down here at lower elevations.

OK, so here is the official forecast:

Showers and scattered thunderstorms. It will be windy at times, especially early. Low 43F. SSE winds shifting to WNW at 25 to 35 mph. Chance of rain 60%.
Tomorrow: Windy...cloudy with rain and snow. Morning high of 45F with temps falling to near freezing. Winds NNW at 25 to 35 mph. About one inch of snow expected. Winds could occasionally gust over 50 mph.
Tomorrow night: Periods of snow and windy. Low 29F. Winds NW at 25 to 35 mph. Chance of snow 90%. 6 to 10 inches of snow expected.
Thursday: Snow along with gusty winds at times. Cold. Temps nearly steady in the low to mid 30s. Winds NW at 25 to 35 mph. Chance of snow 80%. Significant snow accumulation possible.

Thankfully, it appears that this system will have passed through by the time I am driving to Denver on Friday and flying back to Boston on Saturday.

As I mentioned, we had our Ranch tour earlier today. Two hours of driving around to the outer reaches of the Ucross 22,000 acres with one of the employees who was very knowledgeable about the property, especially the flora, fauna and the general ecology. It was fascinating. Among other things, I learned that currently there are 42 rabbits per square mile in the state of Wyoming. Multiply that by the land area of Wyoming (97,105 sq. miles) and you have 4,078,410 rabbits in the state. With a human population of 493,782 (2000 census) that's eight and a quarter rabbits per person; enough to feed each of us for at least a month! That is, if we ate rabbit stew, which I think I'll pass on. Just the fact that this is a statistic someone keeps out here is really funny. I doubt if anyone knows how many rabbits there are per square mile in have we survived all these years? Even after a week and a half out here, this is still a very different place.

Posted by halsey at 05:21 PM

March 26, 2007

Ucross #10 - across the river

Sometimes I feel like I am living in some sort of experiment out here on the high plains. Almost like I am on a secluded nature preserve which prides itself on the herds of deer, prairie dogs, rabbits and turkeys. Oh yeah, and the herd of eight artists. I don't mean this in a bad way at all. I think it's because there is much less separating nature and humans out here. Every day, I get a veritable performance of wildlife right outside of Jesse's Hideout. And the animals are remarkably brave and curious, especially the rabbits. Maybe they are just stupid, but they don't run away until you are essentially within touching distance.

This whole notion was amplified on a run I went on the other day. I decided that there was no way I was going to leave Ucross without climbing the twin peaks that sit right behind my studio.

Climbing these peaks is really no amazing feat of athleticism or strength, but the reason everyone always runs on the other side of Route 16 is because there is a river the passes between the studios and the peaks. There is no bridge, and it's a good 25 feet wide with significant flow. Not a raging torrent, but what it lacks in ferocity, it makes up for in sheer bone-chilling temperature. I made the mistake on the way over of going upstream looking for a narrower and easier spot to ford the river. This makes sense but for the fact that I didn't realize going upstream meant that I had to ford two rivers! No matter, I made it and headed towards the eastern peak.

On the other side of the river I felt like a visitor; like I wasn't supposed to be seeing everything. The first pack of mule deer I ran into made me think I was in Jurassic Park seeing some wondrous new animals gliding in their posse as they have done, unnoticed by human-kind, for thousands of years. And then a T-Rex swoops out of nowhere making a snack of three or four in one bite. OK, so that's probably a bit dramatic, but it really was an other-worldly experience.

And today, the wildness has continued. There is a woodpecker on the roof of my studio! This thing is big and loud and for some reason thinks it can find bugs in the cedar shingles of Jesse's Hideout. I like woodpeckers, I really do, but this guy is sadly not helping the peace and solitude that I find so inspiring about Ucross. Let's hope this is a temporary situation...

Posted by halsey at 09:34 PM

March 25, 2007

Ucross #9 - excursion to neighboring metropolis #2

Every Friday, one of the staff at Ucross has the exciting job of taking the residents on a town trip to either Buffalo or Sheridan. Last Friday, it was Sheridan, so I decided to join not only to explore a new town, but in hopes of finding presents for people back home. How can I spend two weeks in Wyoming and not return with at least a few tastes of the wild west to share?

Turns out Sheridan is a pretty depressed (depressing) town, or at least this is the impression I got. I only walked around on the main drag, but half of the stores I went into were either in the process of down-sizing or were having a clearance sale in advance of shutting down for good. Sheridan has a population of about 14,000 people and is the fourth largest town in Wyoming. 14,000 would probably be the fourth *smallest* town in Massachusetts. I think the entire state has less than half a million.


In any case, the one encouraging part about Sheridan was King's Saddlery. This place was amazing. It had a store selling any kind of horse paraphernalia someone who knows about this sort of thing could imagine as well as a shop where they made ropes for lassos and then if you were brave enough to cross the alley behind the store, you could check out the King's Saddlery Museum.


Don King, the owner of the place, was apparently one of the best leather craftsmen and rope makers of his time, and his company has kept this reputation going to the present day. The museum has about a thousand saddles from the past 150 years as well as some other historical equipment and tools and a bunch random stuff. So this made me feel better about the prospects of the town, though it didn't help in my present search. Thankfully, Dan's Western Wear and the Crazy Woman Trading Company provided some good gifts. But I'm not giving any hints in case the recipients are reading...

Posted by halsey at 02:33 PM | Comments (1)

March 24, 2007

Ucross #8 - scoring

I waded through the voices from the penultimate BYOV Museum Tour event at the DeCordova yesterday and it felt good. The ICA event is the only one left, but it's a biggie; over one hundred voices recorded. It's going to take a while, and I feel the need to not only split it into two days, but to take a break from the listening before diving in.

Today, I worked on scoring pieces for my performance at the Boston Cyberarts Festival. It felt great to be finalizing certain aspects of these pieces for the live performance. There is something very different about my music in the live setting than in the studio. Of course, this is always the case to a certain extent, but it seems more significant here. Pete and I have worked out how to play most of the pieces on our own, but when we add the strings and horns (and the associated personalities and schedules of the players!), things get more complicated and require a more concrete approach. I like to keep the live pieces as flexible as possible so that we can all create something slightly new each time, but this becomes harder with more musicians. All Pete and I have to do is look at each other while playing to communicate what we want to do, but with a bunch of other players with whom we have not played very often, this becomes nearly impossible. This said, the advantages of having real musicians playing real instruments during the performance far outweighs the downside.

So here's a page from 'The Clouds':

Today marks the mid-way point of my trip out west. I feel like I have accomplished a bunch of stuff thus far, but there is much more to be done before I head back to Boston. Hopefully tomorrow I'll make a big dent in the additional 7 pieces I need to score and then I can tackle the ICA.

And I almost forgot the most exciting thing I did today: my laundry.

Posted by halsey at 01:02 AM

March 23, 2007

Ucross #7 - excursion to neighboring metropolis #1

As promised, I will now report on our big excursion into Buffalo last night. There are eight residents here at Ucross at any one time, and the current mix is two painters, one writer, four dancers, and don't forget the one composer. It is a great group, and I was able to (easily) convince all but one to join me at the Occidental Saloon. We hopped in two cars and headed west on Route 16 for 20 minutes into Buffalo. Turns out that the deer come out at night to graze along the edges of the highway, and sometimes they wander into the middle of the road. I think I gave my passenger seat companion a heart attack when we had to slow from 65 to almost a stop to avoid hitting one. I don't even think it looked up...

The Occidental Saloon was not quite as packed as I had hoped, and the music was dramatically less good than I had hoped, but the atmosphere was great, and my friend, the proprietress, was her usual ebullient self which was entertaining. We got some dirt on the seven-year-old girl ghost who lives upstairs, and checked out the old, yet newly restored, wing of the hotel which was completely amazing...original furniture and everything. The bordello was apparently in operation until the mid-seventies.



It was great to leave the ranch and experience a bit more local flavor as well as get to know the other residents better. It's a good group. And it was pretty funny how glaringly we stood out in the saloon. I think we would have looked different anyway, but our accents and the fact that I was taking a bunch of pictures left no doubt in anyone's mind. But I never felt that being from out of town was anything negative to the locals. I'm sure they get roving tribes of Ucross residents all the time...

Posted by halsey at 04:38 PM

March 22, 2007

Ucross #6 - remembering

I finished up listening to the MASS MoCA voices at about 1AM last night and had a great walk back to my room. Turns out that my studio is located about ten minutes walking distance away from the building where I sleep and all the residents eat. Initially I was disappointed that this was the case, thinking that it would be a pain to have to go back and forth between the two, but I will admit that I was wrong. I really like having a 'commute' and the whole 'going to work' thing provides for more focus somehow. I could drive to the studio in about 3 minutes, but I have really been enjoying walking across the huge pasture that lies between the two groups of buildings. There is a chained gate on either side to prevent the current grazers (sheep right now, but clearly cows at some point in the past) from wandering.

So my walk back last night was wonderful. It had cooled off and the sky was this azure color with a sliver of moon winking at me like it was trying to seduce me into doing something against the rules. Not that there are many rules out here... I tried to take a picture of it, but as seems to often be the case with my photography skills, it just wasn't happening. It was so quiet too. Initially, I could hear the stream that snakes behind my studio, but that faded leaving only my footsteps and occasionally those of the herds of wild rabbits darting around.

Today, I feel like I have moved to New York, as I have been listening to voices from the Chelsea Art Museum and P.S.1. It brings back the whole experience of these events, some of which were good, and some not so good. Chelsea was sadly on the not-so-good side of things as there simply weren't any people at the museum. I think I got 9 people all day, and when you compare that to the hundred plus I recorded at the ICA, it's kind of pathetic. But it was certainly less hectic, and I had a great parking spot.

I had forgotten that part way through the tour, I changed up the questions a bit, so that was a nice surprise. I think I like the new questions better; they seem to be somehow eliciting more interesting responses. One person went off on how immoral it was for the MET to charge a $20 entry fee. Art is for the people; but only if you are rich!

I am blogging early today because I'll be heading into the big city of Buffalo tonight back to the lovely Occidental Hotel to check out the free-form music they'll have going on at the attached Occidental Saloon. Apparently every Thursday, all musicians from 100 miles around, converge and play together. Whatever happens depends on who shows up and what they feel like playing. I'm psyched to check that out. I think I have convinced a bunch of the other residents to join me on this excursion. Will report back tomorrow!

Posted by halsey at 04:22 PM

March 21, 2007

Ucross #5 - settling in

I've been listening to all the voices I recorded during the Bring Your Own Voice Museum Tour here in Jesse's Hideout. It is always an intimate experience, putting on the headphones and hearing people who I don't know express their thoughts and ideas and feelings, but somehow it was even more powerful here. Maybe it is because I am in the middle of nowhere with very few people around generally speaking, yet I have imported 250 of my 'subjects' to study. I guess the isolation amplifies. I like it.

Yesterday, I listened to the voices from the first Museum Tour event at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum and picked out the snippets of expression that struck me as interesting musically or in their content. It's always an exciting time to begin the listening process because everything is wide open. I have no idea what the music I write from these voices is going to be like and I have the ultimate luxury right now of being able to make these sorts of decisions. And then I can change my mind over and over again and I won't drive anyone by myself crazy! Such are the benefits of being a solitary composer...

Today, as I dive into the Portland Museum of Art and MASS MoCA voices, I am beginning to form some thoughts about what might make up the piece. As I listen, I often wish that I had asked different questions, or phrased things differently, but there is nothing to be done about that now, and I certainly have plenty of raw material to work with. I am feeling like focusing on a few very specific recurring ideas and personal expressions of some of the participants rather than trying to somehow create some sort of scientifically equal representation of everyone. That just results in brown, which isn't something I strive for (sorry UPS).

Posted by halsey at 09:01 PM

March 20, 2007

Ucross #4 - orientation

I don't know if it is time or distance that changes out here; but one of them definitely does. I went on a run in the hills to the north of Route 16 on the other side from where the primary Ucross buildings reside and perspectives were totally different. I kept on looking back at where I had come from and couldn't believe that it seemed so far away. Did I move really quickly or is there some weirdness in the air that makes things appear farther away than they really are? It was great to climb up to the top of some hills and be able to see my new world from above. I went to my official orientation this morning at 10 sharp and learned, among other things, that the Ucross Foundation owns 22,000 acres of land here. Pretty impressive. I don't need to worry about wandering off the edge while running. I doubt I can even *see* off the edge...

I got myself setup in Jesse's Hideout and thankfully all my equipment seems to have survived the plane ride. I got going listening to voices from the Aldrich, but became distracted first by the piano sitting next to me and then by a lyric that popped into my head that I was pretty excited about. Made me wish I had my drumkit with me, but there are other things that make noise when I hit them. Things are sounding good in my head, but often I am more forgiving in that space. We shall see...
Here's an intro to the studio:

And here's a question for you techies out there: why does the sound lag big-time when I upload videos to YouTube? Very strange...

Posted by halsey at 12:08 PM

March 19, 2007

Ucross #3 - arrival

This morning I awoke in my six poster bed at the Occidental Hotel in Buffalo. I was scheduled to arrive at the Ucross Foundation in the early afternoon, so my plan was to get into the Big Horn National Forest for a hike before heading northeast to the booming metropolis of Ucross. I got a recommendation from the extremely kind proprietor of the hotel to head up Crazy Woman Canyon Road into the foothills. How could I resist?!

Turns out the Cobalt isn't terrible on ice, but also isn't that good. I was able to get several miles up the canyon before getting stuck on a particularly lengthy stretch of icy road. No matter; time to hike. It was a brisk 45 degrees, but in the sun it felt great and the steep at times climbing kept me nice and warm.

It was so amazingly quiet and I didn't see one other person the entire time. Come to think of it, I didn't see any large wildlife either, though there was plenty of excremental (is that a word?) evidence that it existed.

I did a large circle around where I parked, experiencing both sides of the canyon and realized at the western edge of my loop that if I could just drive half a mile further, I could link up with another road for the return trip. I like to avoid back-tracking whenever possible, but alas, my Cobalt was not up for the task. I even tried getting a really good 'running' start, but the ice was too much for the American engineering and down I came the way I went up.

After a quick stop at the Buffalo post office, I headed out Route 16 to Ucross where I am right now, settling into my new rather remote surroundings.

It is beautiful, the facilities are more than adequate and the other residents seem really friendly and interesting. But the best part is this:

Where else can you get a bag lunch with your name on it delivered to you daily?! And they even remembered that I am vegetarian. I could get used to this!

Stay tuned for tomorrow's update which will include an introduction to Jesse's Hideout, my new studio...

Posted by halsey at 09:29 PM

March 18, 2007

Ucross #2 - crossing state lines

Today I headed north. North, away from the sunny 70 degree weekend that overtook Denver and into the great plains of Wyoming. It is still relatively warm up here, but not quite the same. This morning I got some groceries for the road and procured a map to try to prevent some of the lost-ness that still might happen. I like maps, but more to peruse all of the areas that I have never explored rather than to help extract me from one of the same. I love seeing all the possibility laid out in front of me and imagining how it might feel to actually be in the different locations.

But before I hopped into the Cobalt, I went to the Denver Art Museum so that I could check out the new wing designed by Daniel Libeskind that just opened recently. It's pretty crazy, as you can see.

The art inside was really great as well. There was a huge variety and lots of modern/contemporary stuff which is what I tend to get more excited about. The building looks like a huge beached ship with a bow and lots of interesting angles which are carried inside in a cool way, but it leaves a whole bunch of walls that are not vertical. Despite this unusual aspect of a building intended to have art hanging on its walls, the whole thing came together very nicely and felt surprisingly efficient and purposeful, unlike, say, Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Bilbao which felt like a building designed to be a huge sculpture, not to house art.

The drive north was beautiful for the most part, but I will admit that after three hours of more or less the same scenery, it got a bit old. The most exciting thing was that I discovered that tumbleweed is not a myth! It was blowing all over the place, and I even ran into a few bunches, splitting it into smaller versions and sending it along (kind of like Atari Asteroids for the geeks out there...). I broke the trip up with a visit to Glendo State Park where I went for a run and checked out the amazing scenery:

I like to sometimes force myself to broaden things and listen to radio rather than just sticking with my (albeit vast) music collection, and travel is a perfect opportunity for this. Sadly, the radio in Wyoming isn't all that good! With the exception of a few trips back to the eighties (Tears For Fears among others!) and a great Jack Johnson song from his (only) good album, it was pretty bleak and made me want to drive even faster.

But I made it to my intended destination of Buffalo, Wyoming, and am right now lounging at the Occidental Hotel which feels like it is straight out of some western film. You can get a lot for your money out here, it seems, and I try to avoid the Best Westerns whenever possible in favor of some local flair. I've been told that the breakfast at the attached Occidental Saloon is quite tasty...

Tomorrow I hope to go for a hike in the Bighorn foothills and then head northeast to Big Red Lane where Ucross is located...

Posted by halsey at 10:21 AM

March 17, 2007

Ucross #1 - Denver

Today marks the first day of my Ucross artist residency. Well, I suppose this is not entirely true because I don't actually arrive in Clearmont, Wyoming until Monday, but my adventure began when I flew out to Denver today. It could actually be argued that it really began last night and this morning as I frantically tried to ensure that I packed all the stuff I'll need for two weeks of focused composing efforts and then dealt with the re-emergent storm we got in New England last night.

This is the first residency I have ever been on, so I am not exactly sure what to expect. And I've never been to Wyoming, so truth be told, I am totally clueless about what is going to happen over the next two weeks. But I am also very excited. Wyoming seems like beautiful country and the location of the Ucross ranch seems gorgeous and remote enough to provide me with inspiration unlike anything I experience in Boston.

I am staying in Denver tonight at my wonderful friends Mary and Karl's place, and tomorrow I head north in my Chevy Cobalt. Stay tuned...

Posted by halsey at 08:47 PM