In June 1988 I hiked to the top of the Flatiron at Lost Dutchman State Park with my friends Mike Burger and Les Blanford. This State Park is also part of the Tonto National Forest and provides entrance into the Superstition Wilderness area. It is quite a rugged climb and a challenging bit of exercise negotiating the steep incline toward the upper slopes, but well worth the effort for the picturesque quality of the breathtaking views from above. We enjoyed one of those spectacularly lovely days in the clear atmosphere of Arizona. Following is a gallery of photographs from that memorable hike. In previous blog-posts I have indicated how these outdoor expeditions have sparked my imagination and moved me to record some musical improvisations on my vintage accordions. In "From Lofty Heights to Shadow-Filled Canyons," I added the You Tube video entitled "Lyric Poem for Accordion," and in "Heralds of Majesty - Hiking in the Arizona Wilderness" I added the video "Fanfares & Reveries for Vintage Hohner Accordion." Here follows part of the visual journey with a selection of images from our Arizona trek.
This improvisation is performed upon my vintage 1930's Hohner Regina VI, a 4/ 5 reed instrument with a 41/ 120 treble key and bass button configuration. Here I am thinking about ceremonial themes and engagement of the musical imagination. It is like walking into a room and hearing symphonic, pipe organ or choral passages upon one's entrance. At times I would also imagine such themes as a prologue to a day of hiking in the desert, mountains and canyons of Arizona. When finally arriving home after a day of hiking in the wilderness, I would try to recall these themes as visionary gifts associated with the discovery of natural splendors, like beautiful hummingbirds who hover before human eyes and invite us along on their path of flight.
Some of these sounds have been inspired by listening to the great pipe organs of Aristide Cavaille-Coll. I love the improvisations by Michel Chapuis recorded at Saint Ouen, also the artistry of Gerard Brooks, Vidas Pinkevicius at St. John's Church in Vilnius, Pierre Pincemaille at Saint-Denis, Daniel Roth at Saint-Sulpice, Olivier Latry at Notre-Dame de Paris, Marie-Claire Alain, Ben van Oosten and David Noel-Hudson, among many other notable performers. The recent release of "The Genius of Cavaille-Coll" by Fugue State Films continues to impress me through a comprehensive and thoughtful analysis of the Cavaille-Coll legacy. Many thanks to Will Fraser and Simon Still for their superbly written historical booklet, and for the fabulous recordings, interviews and performances assembled in this remarkable DVD/ CD presentation.
Following are a series of photographs taken by my friend Mike Davault on our hike through an Arizona canyon not far from Tortilla Flat. It was a breathtaking day in November of 1998 and quite a rugged area for our wilderness journey through the rocks. Years later I would record the video entitled "Fanfares & Reveries for Vintage Hohner Accordion" featured above. I wanted to capture some of the impressions gleaned as we explored the boundaries of this area. The canyon walls rise quite majestically from the floor below, where rocks and huge boulders guard the corridors of this vast refuge in the wilderness. The colors exhibit spectacular variety and richness of palette, with textures everywhere indicating an almost untouched garden of plant life amidst the chiseled rock formations. After a period of rain, delicate green-yellow lichen and moss align the rocks along the course of a miniature stream, feeling soft to one's touch and bringing radiant colors to this canyon wonderland. There is a huge boulder which displays a perfectly flat surface toward the middle of the canyon, a neat place for rest, lunch or listening to the quiet. When you finally reach the lower end of this area, you climb tenuously back up to the road and then gratifyingly admire the area you have just traversed with considerable effort. As always, you should dress appropriately to hike this area, wear very good hiking shoes, bring plenty of water, some food and snacks, and tag along with an experienced friend who knows this part of Arizona fairly well. This is some of the background story, in both pictures and music as inspired by the rugged beauty of Arizona, a place of considerable majesty.
Hiking North of Tortilla Flat, Arizona - A Gallery of Images
Since 1978 I have lived in Arizona and found the beauty of the skies and landscapes here to be unsurpassed. While traveling on one of my many journeys to the lakes and canyons of this State, I came across a series of landscapes which captivated my sense of space, imagination and unparalleled atmosphere. On the road to Saguaro Lake I stopped the car just to take in the broad sweep of mountains towering above the desert floor. Everywhere I looked I could sense the immense majesty and splendor of this dynamically arranged landscape. You could envision momentarily the utter solidity of these fantastically colorful rocks, feeling the dizzying power of the heights soaring skyward far from the viewer's humble point of view. The lake itself seemed to sit nobly ensconced like an enchanted oasis neatly shelved between enduring monoliths. Here was this great body of water stretching outward for miles within an expansive desert kingdom. Such a compelling sight seemed perfect as subject matter for an acrylic painting.
"Arizona Skies and Landscapes" was painted in 1986 just at the peak of my pictorial interest in abstract atmospheres and the colorful impressions as seen through the eyes of an artist. I chose wood as a painting surface because I liked the solidity and feel of the material as opposed to canvas or paper. The blend of colors reminds me of the sometimes nebulous ranges of hues seen throughout the changing hours of the day, bright in the morning, intense in the afternoon, glowing toward evening. At times everything seems to coalesce like some grand architectural symphony, where shapes and spaces seem to collide and evolve from one set of dimensions to another. I started to paint a low-relief ground as a textured acrylic surface, but then became absorbed by the variations of color in the overall pattern taking shape. So it seems that the colors may be more significant than the implied shapes which dominate the background. There may be a few more abstract landscapes from the 1980's, but this painting is perhaps one of my favorites as it strikes a visual chord of fascination with the Arizona desert/ mountain environment.
An improvisation upon the theme of hiking in Arizona while exploring a canyon north of Tortilla Flat. Many years ago a friend revealed this site to me as we traversed the entire length and breadth of this natural corridor along the desert landscape. I would guess that the entire length of the canyon is several thousand feet, bordered by sheer walls which must ascend up to 400 or 500 feet. It had rained days before we made our journey and we discovered small rivulets of cool water which could barely be called a stream, lined with yellow-green lichen and moss, meandering through the floor of the canyon. There were pools of dark water which reflected the brilliant orange sunlight from above, giant boulders which you had to jump across, and an impression of ancient permanence in the majesty of this place. I recalled the mysterious beauty of Claude Debussy's "The Sunken Cathedral" as we hiked along the vast corridor stretched out before us. The area toward the south of the canyon opens up and allows a more spacious view of the surrounding desert landscape. When you climb back up toward the roadway above and then look down to see where you have been, you almost cannot believe the extraordinary depth and size of this area. It is truly a breathtaking journey well worth the time and effort it takes to fully explore this magnificent environment.
Performed upon my vintage 1930's Hohner Regina VI accordion, a 4/5 reed instrument in LMMM configuration. Two previous videos have featured improvisations which explore impressionistic themes associated with this canyon. "Lyric Poem for Accordion" posted 2/6/2014 with my vintage Iorio (video length 8:34) and "Fanfares & Reveries for Vintage Hohner" posted 9/13/2011 (video length 5:08)
This video provides another example of what I call "painting with reeds" or imagining space, form, line, rhythm and color via the impressionistic music of a vintage accordion. Arizona is a special place for outdoor adventures including hiking, sightseeing and day-trips. Years ago I was brought face to face with an extraordinary canyon just north of Tortilla Flat, Arizona. A friend who once worked as a Forest Ranger showed me this location and we spent the entire day exploring the majesty of the Arizona landscape. Improvisation gives the musician an opportunity to record feelings and impressions which may otherwise be inexpressible or unsearchable. In this music I am recording both the majesty and the wonder of this remarkable area, utilizing the reeds of the instrument as my orchestra. There is often a pulse or breath of life which animates the scenery and vistas of a particular location, a sense of Divine handiwork which captures our imagination and may hold our interest for hours or days afterwards. In this case, I am remembering the vast perspectives and colorful details as seen from both below and above the canyon's corridors, as if the entire picture could be displayed via the textures and phrases of music. Manufactured in 1938, the Hohner Regina VI features a unique sonic signature which often reminds me of the power and characteristic versatility of a large pipe organ. I owe a debt of gratitude to my friend Jerry who tuned and restored this instrument, replacing worn parts and adjusting the inner mechanism to achieve remarkable results. Here is a 76 year old instrument which still speaks in a rather poetic and artistic manner, allowing the musician to "paint" via a set of extraordinary German reeds, providing a picture which remains indelibly etched in one's visual, tactile and sonic memory.
There are windswept days in the Arizona Desert where seemingly every color of the spectrum may be examined upon close inspection. This particular area is just north of McKellips Road and Crismon Road in East Mesa, an area where Usery Mountain Regional Park stands adjacent to Tonto National Forest. After a period of seasonal rain, it is amazing to see how green this area becomes, bursting with lime-green, yellow-green, emerald green and dozens of other varieties of spectacular hues. When the desert is dry, one notices the rust-colors, the tans, the yellow ochres, the bleached greys, faded green hues and ashen rocks. The wildlife also exhibits great variety of color, from flashy iridescent hummingbirds to motley colored songbirds and rustic desert quail. Once I visited a Park nearby and witnessed Harris hawks sailing high overhead, looking like noble black falcons on a cerulean blue sky. I am reminded of a phrase coined by American artist Wolf Kahn, a gifted painter and fantastic landscape artist. Kahn once told a group of Drew University art students that he was intrigued by "the tangles of nature," those outdoor spectacles we notice when we truly study and observe the natural environment which surrounds us. The Arizona Desert is indeed such an environment, filled with tangles and colorful spectacles stretching from the desert floor all the way to the blue-grey, purple and lavender mountain peaks.
I love the contrasts between light & shadow upon the desert mountains of Arizona. This area is known as Usery Mountain Regional Park, located just 20 minutes from my home in Mesa. The Park encompasses 3,648 acres and is situated at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains, adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. Pass Mountain rises to 2,840 feet and features a spectacular hiking trail which allows views of 70 or more miles into the distance beyond. The lower Sonoran Desert is a fascinating place offering a wealth of rich color and a diverse variety of flora & fauna. On a bright day with palatial clouds sailing overhead, you can absorb the pulse and atmosphere of this remarkable environment. As you take in the sweet birdsong and distant calls of wildlife, for just a moment you begin to absorb the manifold beauties of the wilderness preserve.
I have stood here in the midst of the Arizona desert, feeling the power of the sun momentarily dispersed through the traveling court of clouds high overhead. In the quiet of pristine clarity, one comes closer to the ever evolving sounds of nature, hearing the sometimes muffled cries in the distance interwoven with the startling immediate presence & pulse of desert wildlife. The desert quail and other birds often respond to the sounds produced via the Audubon bird call, coming closer to inspect the source of the tweets, chirps and foreshortened birdsong. One feels the immense carpet of time-change sweep from early morning to late afternoon, noticing the colors of the day as they morph from brilliant hues to faded transparencies. These are the feathers of time, where the mountains, rocks and trees diligently mark the passage of years, decades, centuries and beyond. How great a privilege to see and hear this remarkable environment, a place of everlasting Light & Shadow.
There is a special majesty in watching palatial clouds silently sail above the Desert landscape of Arizona. I vividly recall Alexander Korda's 1940 fantasy film masterpiece "The Thief of Bagdad." When I view scenes such as the one included here, I am transported to another world, a place of enchantment foretold in "The Arabian Nights" stories. Antoine Galland popularized these spectacular tales in "The Thousand and One Nights" (1704), forever immortalizing names such as Sinbad, Aladdin & Ali Baba. Korda's film stars John Justin as Prince Ahmad, Conrad Veidt as Jaffar, June Duprez as the Princess, and Sabu as Abu. On a day when these splendid clouds sail high overhead, I reflect upon the stunning visual imagery captured by those magnificent flying carpet scenes. Through the art of wondrous special effects, I too fly high above the earth via a heightened sense of ebullient imagination.
A Wilderness Journey & a Memorable Encounter
Many years ago I drove from my home in Mesa to spend a day hiking in the Superstition Mountains at Lost Dutchman State Park, just north of Apache Junction, Arizona. It is a leisurely drive from where I live to the entrance of the Park, perhaps 30 to 40 minutes, with clear views all around and a rare majesty of the mountain/ desert interface on panoramic display. On this particular day I brought an Audubon Bird Call with me as well as some reading material, good hiking boots, comfortable clothing (safari style), a couple of snacks, plenty of water, and a nice cowboy hat to offer some shade from the hot desert sun. Early in the morning I started up the main trail and hiked a brief segment until I found a shady spot next to some palo verde trees and rock outcroppings. There I found a perfectly secluded spot where no one could see me and I could rest amidst the bounty of natural flora & fauna, taking delight in these extraordinary surroundings.
A Startling Sound & A Brilliant Display
As I became entirely comfortable in this desert hideaway, I began to read and to quietly mimic the sound of bird chirps through the use of the bird call. After a few minutes I suddenly became aware of a thundering sound and a delicate palpitation right next to my right eye and upper cheek. I thought for a moment that it was a very large bumble bee or honeybee and I just froze unable to move. This winged phenomenon was beating its wings wildly in an extraordinary manner, and I could hear it and feel it so distinctly, perhaps only 6 inches from my face. I turned my gaze ever so slightly toward this object and noticed very bright, iridescent colors, and a very long, slender and narrow bill. It was a beautiful hummingbird just hovering next to me, apparently attracted by the sound of the bird call and looking me over from cowboy hat to dusty boots! This moment only lasted a brief minute or two, yet I was so delighted and stunned to come that close to such a beautiful creature. The little fellow took off after a suitable inspection, allowing me to savor that spectacular chance meeting as a divine and cherished gift.
The Audubon Bird Call
The Audubon Bird Call was invented in 1947 by Roger Eddy, an author and member of the Connecticut State Legislature. This small device, just a couple of inches in length, is made of cast zinc (or other metal) and birch wood, made in Rhode Island and available from many specialty shops in either red or natural wood color. You can twist the metal knob and mimic the sounds of a host of different species of birds, from chirping sounds to song-like tweets. The wooden chamber may be treated with a bit of rosin (usually supplied by the manufacturer) in order to keep it at its best sound-producing capability. If kept dry and away from moisture or humidity, the bird call should last indefinitely and provide many hours of bird-watching enjoyment.
Hummingbirds are fascinating creatures to watch, with estimates of anywhere between 60 to 200 times per second of the flapping of their delicate wings. They experience a fast breathing rate, fast heartbeat, and high body temperature, can fly up to 60 miles per hour, are capable of incredible gyrations & mid-air maneuvers, and can live 5 to 6 years in the wild. There are some 320 species extant, covering a wide swath of geographical territory, often migrating appreciable distances. Their colors are fabulous in richness and vibrant in texture, shining in a spectacular manner, especially in the deserts of Arizona, a location noted for brilliant sunshine year round.
Lost Dutchman State Park
40 miles east of Phoenix stands this remarkable sanctuary, nestled within the Sonoran Desert, featuring many trails which lead into the Superstition Wilderness and the Tonto National Forest. You can hike Siphon Draw Trail to the top of the Flatiron, an elevation of 4,800 feet, a height which affords a monumental view of the Valley below. At that elevation, Phoenix looks like a city made of toy blocks perhaps one quarter inch high along the distant horizon, and Mesa and Apache Junction fan out in dazzling array as far as the eye can see. Mule deer, coyote, javelina, jackrabbit, desert quail, and cactus wren populate the landscape here, with hiking trails and nature trails adding to the convenience of 72 campsites within the perimeter of the Park. The name "Superstition Wilderness" was apparently inspired by Pima Indian legends, and one may still find evidence of cliff dwellings and caves in this area. Salado or Hohokam Indians may have populated this landscape 100's of years ago, with Pimas, Apaches and Yavapais living here subsequently. In the 1800's this area became an Apache stronghold. In the 1840's the Peralta family of northern Mexico produced a gold mine here. In the 1870's Jacob Waltz and his partner Jacob Weiser apparently located the mine, but kept its location a well-guarded secret. After Waltz died in 1891, no one was ever able to find the exact location of "The Dutchman's" lost mine.