Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Now Is The Winter

Now is the Winter of my discontent, but as always, I'm content to keep trying. There are even some smaller triumphs to mention.

Roughly a week ago, I left from LA, CA to redeem my lost Winter-music itinerary by driving up rout 395 all the way to Reno, NV, to visit my mother and step father for the holidays. My plan was to take a few days drive, hitting all of the classic scenic spots along the way that define the mountainous 395 scenic experience, and I would create live ambient music at each location that I stop at. The rustic alpine nature of these settings is perfect for winter holidays, so the music always promises to reflect that. Last year I couldn't follow through with this plan because of a driving restriction, so I was prime to finally follow through now.

The drive itinerary:

1 - Mammoth Lakes
2 - Mono Lake
3 - Bodie Ghost Town
4 - Bridgeport farmlands and meadows
5 - Swauger Creek
6 - (possibly) Topaz Lake
(I've already done the Alabama Hills and Owens Lake Bed)

After arriving in Reno, the plan was to then spend another week visiting and recording ambient music at locations around it. Places like:

1 - Emerald Bay, Tahoe
2 - Lake Tahoe northeast overlook
3 - Donner Pass and/or Lake
4 - Portola
5 - Pyramid Lake
6 - (possibly) Walker Lake

So, I first left a day late because I was trying to finish something up for my band, The Stratos Ensemble. This band is important to me, being comprised of top notch industry professionals and even legends who believe in the band and my vision enough to play for free, so I make them a priority. 

Back to my late departure: I spent the night of Dec 22nd at Red Rock State Park, an extremely colorful and sculpted canyon along the 395 that appears during the last stretch of Mojave desert. After waking up under the canyon's magnificent walls, I cranked out a quick ambient track within roughly a half hour using only my Macbook Air, and in honor of the late Edgar Froese (Tangerine Dream founder who used to love the Mojave). I then left to reach Mammoth and Mono Lake before nightfall, but I didn't get there. I wasn't hustling enough and I wasn't driving quite fast enough because I had gotten a ticket for speeding when I had driven up a month earlier for Thanksgiving. As it turns out, after all of that now-careful driving, I got pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt anyway. Classic. By the time I got to Bishop, the last big town, there was only an hour or so more of daylight. Driving forward, I ended up parking at a random spot in Mammoth and just cranking out another quick ambient piece with my Macbook Air in the car, next to a ski resort, in the very last glow of twilight. The day was gone already, a concept I've grown somewhat used to at this point.

The Macbook Air ambient tracks I made that day came out pretty well, but they are nothing like what I had intended. And even though they are cool, I don't think they came out quite as well as the two tracks I created later using only my iPhone, and that's still mainly for the novelty of having done them on a phone. Perhaps I'll let you be the judge of that comparison at some point, but for now, I'll just show you the iPhone ones.

First night arriving in front of a Mammoth Ski Resort.

And/but back to the trip, all was not lost yet, because I still had a couple of days to kill if I preferred  So, I planned on filming at Mono Lake, Bodie Ghost Town, and Swauger Creek the next day, before either reaching Reno or spending the night at Topaz Lake. I got a hotel room in the town of Lee Vining, near Mono Lake, and prepared for the next day of recording and driving. What could go wrong?

Often what ends up going wrong is a very large yet very simple detail that you were too busy with all of the little complexities to notice. What went wrong was that I forgot to check the weather, even days earlier. Turns out a major snow storm was rolling in that night, expected to cover everything with almost a couple of feet of snow. To make matters worse, my mother had actually mentioned this to me a couple of days prior, but caught me at one of those moments when I wasn't paying attention to her.

I emerged from my Lee Vining motel room to discover an arctic scene and a complete white out. There would be no Mono Lake visibility, Bodie Ghost Town was now closed, and chains were now mandatory for two wheels drive vehicles. I drive a Honda Civic, because otherwise I would hardly afford the gas money for this much driving, so chains were inevitable, and would inevitably slow me down to less than half my usual speed.  This meant I would also not likely make it to Bridgeport in a comfortable amount of time enough to salvage that part of the adventure either. The day was completely shot,b yet again, this time before it even started, and there was no sign of the storm letting up within a few days. Slightly moping, I bought the only $100 pair of chains available in that small town and I continued on.

Town of Lee Vining, Xmas Eve, where I had to buy $100 chains 
to continue on to Reno. This guy's look says it all.

Rather than messing with my schedule any further, I decided to just return back to the 395 someday in the near future, and in the meantime continue on to Reno for my locations there and my mother during Xmas (regardless of the fact that she is Jewish).

A church bench in Carson City, approaching Reno after the heavy storm.

In a nutshell, I've enjoyed my stay here with my mom and step dad Ian (he's British), but those snows have really changed almost all of my remaining plans. Everything has been closed: Emerald Bay at Lake Tahoe, Pyramid Lake, and even parts of Donner Pass. 

To make matters worse, cops have been friggin' everywhere this year, and they have hounded me at almost every stop, even out in the snowy mountains. I totally feel like I'm living in an Orwell novel. They have not failed to make the entire west feel like a machine. "What can I help you with today?" "Where are you coming from?" "How much have you had to drink tonight?" "This isn't a good place for you to stop. You should use campsites if you are going to stop somewhere." REALLY??? It's no longer "legally appropriate" for a person to pull over where there is a rest stop and get out and look around at beautiful nature??? Or even just to pull over and get some rest in their car? This obviously goes way beyond "protecting the environment" or "looking out for civilian safety." This is simply a policed and far more heavily regulated society than even white people realize has likely begun. You would think that the recent events in Baltimore would have loosened cops up, but actually now they're even hounding white people who are out in the friggin' stix! I'm still shaking my head in amazement, and I'm obviously frustrated about it. I'm out in the friggin' forest for God's sake. One police woman almost detained me at a Lake Tahoe rest stop just for being parked there with my iPhone on. I was parked! That was one of several encounters over the last week.

I know cops deserve our respect most of the time, because what they do is brave, sure, but when you start regulating that much of people's legal freedoms, no one will respect you no matter how much you think you're protecting them. I know this is hard for most people to believe, because most people prefer to be locked away at home where it's warm and fuzzy and they can watch TV without thinking about the real world outside other than through the news, but some people actually like to be in the real world outside, and all over it. And we have the right to be, because we are respectful people and we don't damage the environment the way the media has led you to believe all human beings do. It's just ludicrous. And the cops love it when people are that reclusive, because it makes their jobs easier in the process. We're heading towards a heavily regulated and completely inexperienced society if this keeps up, like so many science fiction books and movies in the world. 

I mean, this is one of those moments when I really do believe cops should be out putting their energy into finding real criminals and helping people who really can't take care of themselves. They should at least be trained with discernment skills, so they can tell people who are true threats from people who aren't at at. God, please make that happen soon. I might need a message after even thinking about this right now, because I'm so friggin' worked up, and I just got a message yesterday.

Anyway, excuse my little rant. I've just had a little too much of it recently. In a nutshell, I really have not been able to do the pre-holiday recording I had hoped to do, and now I have a date with some colleagues in Vegas from the 31st to the 4th. Off I go.

...However, this is not over by a long shot. Fooled you for a minute.

In light of these developments, I will come back here after Vegas in less than a week, around January 4th, and do as many of the originally planned locations as possible up the 395 and around Reno. By then, a good portion of these snows will have hopefully melted away. Rather than give up and go home, the way I have other times, I'm going to see at least half of these locations through before deciding that home is even an option.  

I'm done trying to make this work just before the holidays exclusively. It's kind of ridiculous. I was trying to exploit the beauty of the holiday aesthetic in there with Wintery locations and concurrent ambient songs, but the obstacles have begun to show me how silly and minute that is. I mean, being in snowy alpine areas is obviously more about communion with the Earth and the natural environment than anything else, but do you think the Earth cares one bit about Winter holidays, or the turning year that marks time for human society? Nope, it doesn't give a volcanoes ass about that stuff. I should just let it go. I was/am with family and friends during said societal events, so as soon as I'm done there, it will be time to do some real and serious Winter communing with nature (not sure why that looks so comical to read back). I'll just live on the road for a bit at that point, and at my mother's, off and on. I should return to LA after about a week and a half into January. Will report on everything at least one more time here before I'm done with this trip.

LASTLY, as I said before, I did manage to crank out a couple of interesting tracks using only my iPhone. I will share them here (below), and if you like them, you are welcome to download them. They are free. All you need to do is click the Soundcloud download icon in each player window. But bear in mind that I will be taking these tracks offline pretty soon, so get them now. They still don't represent my optimal outdoor performance, so I'm sorry, but I won't be keeping them online as slight misrepresentations of what I generally do. 

One of these tracks I created when twilight was falling as I arrived in the meadows of Bridgeport, and the other track I cranked out days later at a Lake Tahoe rest stop overlook after realizing that the road to Emerald Bay was closed. Both tracks were created in my car, running my iPhone through the car stereo system after pulling over. 

Each of these two tracks (below) were made exactly as their title suggests, and each concurrent photo associated with them is of the spot they were created and at the moment they were created:

Also, I've met some amazing people while here, so it's been a good trip on a personal level. Nothing is for not. 

Onwards and inwards.

The snow drifts near Bridgeport, Xmas Eve snow storm.

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