We walk or drive around Portland, and we are bombarded â€“ by signs, buildings, sound, traffic, information of all sorts, every possible corner filled with the cultural stuff of the modern city, the air a battlefield of warring noises. We rush by it and through it all quickly because we couldnâ€™t possibly pay attention to all of it, maybe any of it, if we want to focus on things that matter.
Which is all another way of saying: The city sometimes sings out to us in unexpected ways.
A few days before the Great Christmas Whiteout of 2008, I found myself listening to the new CD by the Portland jazz band Blue Cranes, â€œHoming Patterns,â€ as I walked to work. I like the energy of the band, the collage of blues, rock and noise, and I like the melodies Reed Wallsmith and Sly Pig wander through on their saxophones. Every now and then, the horns in the band collide, often in a chord, an interesting chord, that expands into another chord and then another, each one pushed to the limit of breath, to the point of honking.
Anyway, I had reached the pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks on Portlandâ€™s east side (about where the photo above was taken), right before you get to the Esplanade and the Steel Bridge. The rail line at that place curves deeply, and as I approached a long freight train, with graffiti-embellished boxcars and flatcars, lumbered underneath. They do not do this silently. They grumble along, of course, but because of the curve, they also squeal sometimes, a teeth-gnashing vibration that makes your fillings hurt.
But here, at this particular intersection, something happened: The screech of that train finished off one of those bleating Blue Cranes chords. Slid up the scale a little and finished it off. It was exactly the right note, somehow, and it pulled me up short as the delight of it all dawned on me. Amazing. The perfect sonic accident.
Continue reading Looking at Noise, or Why We Love the Blue Cranes