FOR ORCHESTRA and SOUNDSCAPES
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As the former President of the United States, what do you do after losing a re-election campaign? If you're Teddy Roosevelt, you head to South America to explore the last major remaining tributary to the Amazon river. River of Doubt for soundscapes and orchestra combines pre-recorded soundscapes, birdcall transcriptions, and a historic expedition into a 25-minute orchestral experience.
In 1913/14 President Theodore Roosevelt and a figure of equal energy and importance, Brazilian General Cândido Rondon, decided to co-lead an expedition exploring the last major uncharted tributary of the Amazon River, the RIVER OF DOUBT (Rio Da Dúvida). At that time, South America was the least explored/mapped continent (outside of Antarctica). It began as the adventure that Roosevelt wanted and ended up as one he hadn’t bargained for; members quit in droves, some died, one was killed, and the killer was left for dead.
According to historian and author Candice Mallard, after suffering a serious injury and infection the former president considered suicide so that the remainder of the team, with their meager supplies and precarious health, might make it out alive. Rondon and Roosevelt were up the proverbial creek without a paddle.
Roosevelt recovery canoe
The expedition sprawled over 1000 miles. Some days, members moved less than a mile through the nearly impenetrable jungle.
In the end–
Roosevelt and the remaining members made it out. The former president was a ghost of his former self, some fifty pounds lighter having sustained injuries that ultimately shortened his life.
100 years after this expedition
My wife and I traveled to the Amazon basin to record soundscapes of ecosystems in peril. Our indigenous guides took us on dugout canoes deep into this biodiverse ecosystem, the lungs of the world, to record sounds as they might have sounded for the last several hundred years.
Audrey Kelley in the Amazon.
River of Doubt
is ideally performed with these soundscapes, immersing the audience in these sonic landscapes. At points, the orchestra becomes the soundscape, drawing parallels between the sounds we hear in the natural world and those we hear in the concert hall.
Movement I: "River of Doubt"
Is an entry into the unknown, a decision that offers no option of turning back. It begins with soundscapes, and near the end, the woodwind instruments and percussion take on different birdcalls found in the Amazon, creating a soundscape that plays outside the confines of the orchestral music
Movement II: "Cloud Forest"
Aurally depicts the grandeur and continually evolving landscapes of the Amazon
Movement III: "Rondon"
Is an examination of the excitement of exploration through the boundless energy and influence of the indigenous advocate and explorer Cândido Rondon.
Expedition member and naturalist George Cherrie wrote of the night soundscape, “Let there be the least break of harmony of sound, and instantly there succeeds a deathlike silence, while all living things wait in dread for the inevitable shriek that follows the night prowler’s stealthy spring.” I agree with George Cherrie, it is not the sounds but rather the sudden cessation of sound that causes alarm, whether it is the alarm of a predator lurking or a climate in crisis.