Monday, October 28, 2013

Parks: Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve

Tucked behind the colossal Claremont Hotel and Spa in Berkeley is Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve. I have Mondays off work, but was surprised how many walkers and joggers I met on trail here. The fire trails were wide and badly eroded in places. One might guess it's from all the dogs off leash here.

Most of the hike was moderately steep -- the loose dirt and rocks in places made descent a serious quad and balance workout. I found that near-squatting with arms free to balance saved my descent. But the appropriately named Stonewall-Panoramic trail, which connects paved streets of those names, offers great views. The first segment from Stonewall Rd might even be wheelchair accessible, but it gets too rutted after that.

A disadvantage of recreating on a weekday is construction crews are active: a road maintenance crew filled the clean air with heavy machinery rumbles and car honks for hours. I found it odd it sounded like the same car horn sounding erratically. Still, I heard a scrub jay mimicking a hawk and numerous other birds I didn't recognize.

Most of the trail was vegetated by low shrubs with an exceptional collection of conifers including pines. The wind whirred through their leaves. I came upon the UC Berkeley Botanical Gardens, and further up the hill a flattened, mulched staging area with a steady breeze that seemed to originate at the Golden Gate. I wondered at the chill Pacific wind that defines so much of our climate here. Today's high didn't break 60 F, and I was alternating sweating with freezing in my sweat.

I managed to make it to a trailhead at Tilden within 2 hours. Just after I turned around, a jet plane whistled overhead and a pack of coyotes roused into a chorus of cackling and whining cries. I would not let my dog off leash here.

This could be a better day hike -- I spotted a few smaller trails that allow the intimate experience of wild lands I prefer, and Tilden is better wooded. Alas, if you're planning a visit, this trailhead will be closed for hazardous tree removal for a few weeks.

Biking: easy access from Russel St and Claremont Ave. Claremont peters out north of Russel but beware of getting doored from a parked car. 

Walking: same intersection is accessible by public transportation, just walk along Claremont to Stonewall Rd and the trailhead.

Is there a park nearby you've wanted to check out? I'll take your suggestions in the comments.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Why is the contemporary classical music community so white?

I went to an evening in the series Resonance with Cheryl E. Leonard. I've been tired from the more rigorous work schedule of the school year, so I did a half-distracted self-kindness meditation before the curator of the series Wayne Grim gave a quick intro and mentioned the vastness of the sound system in that space. It was donated but cost a fortune to install and tune.

Cheryl E. Leonard makes contemporary style music using found sounds and objects. The focus of the evening was her work in Antarctica, featuring instruments made from contact mics, water mics, and mics for amplification; and local materials like penguin bones and stones.

At one point, prompted by host Sarah Cahill to describe what an abalone-like mollusk, the limpet, was, she said it was shaped like "Chinese hats". I spent the rest of the night trying to recover from this unintentional reminder of embedded racism in the classically-trained music community -- deep sadness and anger flowed through me. Why should I participate in a community whose norm silences my differences? (For those of my white readers who haven't yet had opportunity to accept, in 2,000 years of history the Chinese have sported a few different hats, and the conical shape Ms Leonard was after can be found in many east and southeast Asian communities.)

Of course the audience of 150 was all white with 4 or 5 Asians and Latinos, so I'm sure her meaning got across flawlessly. Ms Cahill simply nodded understanding and moved on.

Stereotypes aside, the complete lack of a personal dimension and motivation further distressed me: a progressive, learning institution presents a whole program of Antarctic wildlife and melting and murmurs not a word about climate change and the role of artists as agents of cultural change. It disturbed me.

My whole body ached in that chair: legs, shoulders, back. I stood up between pieces to move around but it was not enough and I still felt pain on the ride home. I regularly sit in stillness for 30 minutes and I know my usual discomforts: this was pain of circumstance.

The first piece was set up with metal fish-hook-like pendants strung across the stage. One by one, the composer, with musician Phillip Greenlief, hung home-made icicles on the hooks to drip into glass beakers. The ponderous, melodious polyphony brought me some ease. I also made a game of guessing where the light sources were because the icicles were lit blue and cast only one shadow on the projection upstage, where close-up video of the instruments in play faded in and out. As they added more hand-directed percussion to the colorful dripping, though, the sound crossed a threshold from meditation and discovery to ambient/random noise music.

Later there were rain tubes filled with sand and salt to slide back and forth and a kelp stem saxophone or kelp-ophone hissing and groaning over taped birdcalls. By the third piece I began to hear the intentional sounds as softly indistinguishable from environmental tape sounds, a woody knocking clattering not unlike cracking and tumbling ice.

I wondered why so many of the audience left after the first piece, but the Exploratorium was open and I suppose not everyone attending Resonance could resist the Siren song of 650 exhibits. Perhaps there's a more compelling explanation.

Maybe it's all just "cool sounds" to Ms Leonard, but in my ear all the ambiguity of entitlement, access, resource exploitation, exclusion, and sharing banged through the evening. I recognize that the audience's experience of a piece has as much to do with our own emotional state and ear as with the physical vibrations in the air, and I would argue that by neglecting her own story and motivations and her hopes for her listeners, Ms Leonard had lost us before the first tinkling tones.