As a part of the Belle Isle and Beyond project, I created my first fixed-media electroacoustic composition in some time.
We tend to think of sound recordings like photographs: as documents that reflect the time and place they were made, as well as the people who created them. Instead, I like to view sound recordings through the lens of the anthropologist Tim Ingold’s theory of making: as materials that I can work with in order to make something unique that would not otherwise exist, like a mason sees stone or a potter sees clay. Far from ‘raw’ or ‘inert,’ these materials—sound recordings, stone, clay—have lives; they bear the imprints of the process by which they came to be, and even with the most advanced technologies, the process of working with them is a push-pull negotiation of forces though which the finely-detailed form of the outcome, in my case a composition, is generated. Belle Isle Reverie (2019) is such a work; a fantasy on a collection of sound recordings made on Belle Isle in the Detroit River in March, 2019 by myself and a group of middle school dance students at the Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences. Of course, the process I described also tells the story of how the place we currently know as Belle Isle came to be: a confluence of natural and human forces and materials, with significant technological mediation. Belle Isle today, like my composition, is a human-made invention of what an urban ‘natural’ place can be. It will change and take on new meanings over time in response to changes to the environment and its surroundings, as well as our cultural and scientific values.