Wednesday, March 20, 2002

Music of the Urban Environment

This week I was inundated with music. Once I started paying attention, I realized that music surrounds me every day. I went shopping, for instance, on Queen Street and the first clothing store I entered was playing very loud punk music. It sort of fit with the store image of funky, trendy and young. I zipped through in five minutes or less. In a store called Caban, however, the environment was completely different and hence the music. Jazz played softly in the background encouraging me to linger over the popasan chairs and thick terry cloth robes. I leisurely browsed as did everyone else. When I entered one of the many trinket stores on Spadina, I found that they were playing classical music, which seemed at odds with the store atmosphere. When I hear classical music, I picture myself enveloped in a luxuriously decorated store with dark wood panelling, pristine glass shelves and expensive merchandise. Perhaps I am being a snob. On Sunday, my day was filled with music. On my way to the Roundhouse Garden, we encountered several St. Patrick's Day bands in full uniform blowing heartily on their trumpets and beating their drums. Later on at the Rex, bluegrass filled the smoky air as I sipped my hot toddy. Today, at the Bay, old, sappy songs that were never very good, even at the height of their fame, played in the background. I wonder who chooses the music? Later on in a restaurant, there was silence, except for the low murmur of conversation, which I found unusual. So unusual that I actually noticed when the music was eventually turned on. It wasn't distracting, just noticeable. As a footnote to this week, I would like to write about a musical experience I had two weeks ago at a dive in Kensington whose name escapes me right now. The music was hard, dark and strange. It grated on my nerves. It made me wince and cringe. It annoyed and deafened me. I couldn't hear most of the lyrics for the electric guitars screeching in the background. Occassionally, I could make out a phrase or two: "Humanity is screwed! The world is dead!" but for the most part, I could have sworn the masked lead singer was just bellowing at the top of his lungs. I stayed 15 minutes. That music experience was just too visceral and in my face for me to enjoy. If I was bombarded with that on an elevator, I would get off and take the stairs. Some noise just can't be considered music. This brings me to a question: What is music?

When I am at home, it is rare for me to listen to music, yet I enjoy it immensely. I wonder why this is so? Perhaps I feel overwhelmed by all the sounds of the day and my unconscious wishes for a break. Perhaps I am too lazy to turn the cd player on. Maybe I don't have any good cds. Maybe I don't like what is playing on the radio or on my computer. At any rate, I often hear music in my head. Does that count? Is it still music if nobody else can hear it?

Sunday, March 17, 2002

Garden Reflective-Roundhouse Park, City Core Golf Course and Irish Spring Garden

When we (Ivan, Zoe and I) came upon the Roundhouse Park, just at the base of the CN Tower, none of us was sure that this was really a park. It was surrounded by huge buildings on one side, the Steamwhistle Brewery on another and in the distance, traffic on the Gardiner expressway could be seen and heard whizzing past. The park itself was nothing more that a small green space surrounded by an orange colored path. In the middle of the park, there was a set of birch trees planted in a gravel covered bed and at the far end, there was another set of trees, this time in a large round planter. The only cheerful thing about this park were the small yellow and orange crocuses popping up around the trees and the rusting water tank standing like a silent sentry at near the brewery. The park was utterly dismal and we did not see anyone frequenting it while we were there. In the summer, I imagine that it might be a nice spot but I think it is overwhelmed by the sounds, sights and smells of the city. It is not a relaxing place and I cannot see myself ever planning a trip to this park. Its location seems almost like an accident and I can see this particular spot of land, in ten years, being commandeered for road or parking lot space. Roundhouse park is a historic site, part of the larger discovery walk tour that we could have taken but instead, we opted to follow our own path. That path led us to another small green space with evergreen trees, which was nice, except for the garbage liberally strewn about. It was located in a small ravine at the bottom of a steep slope, wedged in between the skydome and a parking lot. Its location makes it perfect for collecting windblown garbage, which nobody seems to have cleaned up recently. Our depressing walk then took us to the City Core Golf Course. A small, hilly course with sand traps, wind tunnels and railway tracks on one side. We stood at hole two, a 61 yard hole, and wondered how anyone could play such a cramped course. We also found several golf balls on the other side of the hill, bordering the railway track, indicating that many golfers might have felt the same way. Coming from Calgary where the golf courses range for kilometers, even the ones in the city (the back nine holes in at the Shaganappi golf course right smack in the middle of the city, on Crowchild Trail, one of the busiest roads in Calgary, will take you three hours on a good day) are a fairly decent size. This particular course would only take a bad golfer like me a maximum of one hour. The course was also incredibly windy because of the wind tunnel effects its location encourages. At the far end of this course was a driving range that contained three tiers, on which several golfers could practice at once. The artificial greens of the driving range stood in stark contrast to the drab, winter browns of the real grass on the golf course. Nets were set up very high around the driving range so as to prevent stray balls from those hitters on the top tier of the driving range from hitting any buildings and vehicles. It was a strange effect really. From the CN tower, I remember seeing this particular course and thinking to myself how disjointed and unusual this green space appeared in the concrete jungle of Toronto. Zoe wondered how anyone could live in such a spiritless, cheerless, gardenless part of the city and I am inclined to agree. I realize there is not much room for improvement around the harbour front area, because of a lack of space but it is still depressing all the same. I guess the point of the discovery walk is to connect the disjointed pieces of park land that the city could acquire into a more continuous green space. The urban garden solution in big cities. As we were walking up Spadina, thoroughly disillusioned by our garden experiences of the day, a flatbed truck sporting an artifical garden, entitled Irish Spring Garden, drove past. I think it was a float from the St. Patrick's day parade that had wound around University Avenue earlier on in the day. Still, it was the perfect ending to our garden outing. Maybe that will be the future of the garden in the city if space and land becomes to scarce. Portable, rentable gardens. Mobile gardens that come to you.