Soundwalk at Willow Farm

A Vancouver New Music/Coast Recital Society coproduction.

At Willow Farm, West Sechelt, on Saturday, September 25

Up the hill and away from the water, past subdivisions with names like Orca View, past lawns encrusted with rust-riddled muscle cars, Willow Farm is a nursery and an oasis, with tubs of Japanese maples for sale and a modest stage perched on top of a rocky outcrop. I settle on a plastic divan and regard the stones, which are striated from the 10,000-year-old passage of glaciers. And I listen.

Behind me, a quartet of middle-aged women discusses Tibetan temple bells and handmade lampshades and Vancouver theatre director Norman Armour. A Douglas squirrel chides the gathering from the safety of a fir tree. A small fountain burbles nearby, filling a shallow lily pond that bristles with metal sculpture. Birds sound from the bush: robin, towhee, flicker, Steller's jay.

After a few minutes, composer Jean Routhier takes the stage to explain why we're here. We're going on a soundwalk, he says, a musical excursion that mingles the noises of the natural environment with man-made sounds, some intentionally produced, others accidental. (Vancouver New Music will host an urban soundwalk on Sunday [October 3]; for more information, call 604-633-0861.) Volunteers pass around foam earplugs, which we're encouraged to wear.

Eventually we move, single file, into the forest. When we stop we remove the earplugs, and listen. I hear a raven, and a chainsaw, and the distant rumble of traffic. The disembodied voice of soprano Wendy Humphreys Tebbutt emerges from the trees, soon joined by the eerily voicelike shakuhachi of Alcvin Takegawa Ramos. It's quite charming; every forest should have its musicians--or does it anyway? I hear chickadees, and the tiny tin-horn honk of a nuthatch, and passing aircraft.

In another glade there's a small radio, broadcasting a quiet electronic throb. Minimal techno? Here, it's more like the pulse of the trees. A mile away, the Georgia Strait glitters in the last of the summer sun. We move on, and there is more singing, more shakuhachi. The lyrics are the worst kind of banal new-age nature invocation. Come, oh trees! Come, oh sun! We don't care. It's lovely here.

After 45 minutes we're back where we started. As I leave I hear the bedtime-story cooing of band-tailed pigeons, and on the drive home the car sings its own droning song, like it always does. It's been a good day.