Composer and Bloomington native Ryan Ingebritsen's passion for music has led him all over the world, composing for nearly every instrument in an orchestra. On a McKnight fellowship he received with help from the American Composers forum, Ingebritsen is starting a project which returns him to Banning and Whitewater State Parks.
Ingebritsen's improvisational electronic music duo "We Can and We Must" is a just a small part of what he does; Ingebritsen is also the live sound engineer for the contemporary classical music ensemble Eighth Blackbird and works at Chicago's cultural center, also as a sound engineer.
Ingebritsen's Chicago lifestyle is very noisy, so he decided to clear his head in the more peaceful, natural environment of Minnesota's state parks to explore the possibilities of natural sound as music.
"I tend to just listen to things as I'm walking and I, at one point, decided that it would be interesting to put musicians in a park and maybe even use the natural features of the park to create a kind of concert in the park," Ingebritsen said. "And over the years this idea has morphed into what it is now, which is essentially a listening tour in which I'll take a small group of people on a hike in a specific location that I've chosen for it's sonic properties and try to get them to listen to it as music."
Ingebritsen has chosen to lead his hikes at Banning State Park and Whitewater State Park. He calls the hikes "song paths."
To appreciate this deep listening experience more completely, Ingebritsen said one needs to concentrate, so he begins each song path by trying to focus everyone's attention on the surrounding environment using a short meditation.
It doesn't take long to start hearing the trail in a different way -- once minds have been cleared, the maestro begins to conduct.
A symphony of bird chirps, whooshing wind and rushing water surrounds the listeners as they follow Ingebritsen on the path.
"When you move from a waterfall to a place where there are rapids, each of those spaces, each of those points, has its own sound characteristic. And as you move from one to the other, you start to hear the slow transition between those things," Ingebritsen said. "When you're right in between them, you hear how those rhythms interact against each other -- the rhythms each of them make."
The composer in Ingebritsen helps him express rhythms and tones, like the shimmering highs made by rocks tumbling over each other, or the bass-like hum of fast water pounding on stone.
"Oftentimes you'll hear these low, gulping swells where the water really goes underneath a rock, or a large rock blocks the path of the water," he said. "And the sound, to me, almost creates a sort-of bass line against a scintillating percussion sound ... you hear the birds make a certain regular rhythm, and the scintillation makes a certain regular rhythm, and you hear the bass line makes a certain regular rhythm. So, in a way, you're almost in a techno-trance kind of moment in that place."
The song path take about an hour, depending on how many "movements" are in the performance. As the music of nature begins to echo off rocks and grab hold, Ingebristen throws in a surprise.
Along the path he's added a few musicians as accompanists. At different intervals, Ingebritsen conducts these musicians in a series of yelps and noises -- a drum banging in the distance, or a few sparse notes from a flute.
It's sometimes difficult to tell what's natural and what's being played, but that's kind of the point.
"As a composer, I'm trying to let everything work on many levels and let my mind go where it wants to go in the hopes that the listener, whether they be someone who's very interested in modern music, or someone who's interested in minimalist music, or someone who's interested in dance music, or someone that's not interested in music at all, could have a really profound experience," he said.
There's no charge, but sign up is required. For information and sign up instructions call (320) 245-2668 for the Banning State Park song path, and (507) 932-3007 ext. 221 for the Whitewater State Park tour.