Symphony City by Amy Martin was one of the first offerings from McSweeney’s McMullens picture book imprint. It. Is. Gorgeous. A young girl’s day is pretty blah until she finds out about a free concert downtown. She puts on her bright yellow raincoat and sets out with her dad. But on the subway, amidst all the silhouettes of strangers, the girl gets lost.
That’s when the music of the city starts. And the color, which in Martin’s rendering go hand in hand. Bright, bold bubbles of sound. There are musicians playing around every corner and through windows. There are birds. And there are other and some imagined things. A forest, flood, giant fish, ballerinas atop buildings. Everything is color and sound and movement. Sound by sound, she finds her way home.
(There’s another bonus to this book, besides the jacket cover that turns fabulous poster: 19 cats appear on its pages. You can count them. And you can look at the endpage to see they all have names! One is called Hoo-Hah.)
That’s Amy ^ !
(images: amy martin illustration)
Amy Martin‘s first picture book came about in a non-traditional way, through her design work for McSweeney’s and the excellent organization 826. “One of those projects was an illustration of the band Death Cab for Cutie for the San Francisco Panorama in 2009.” Yeah, she’s really into music and indie rock. “During the conversation where I was getting permission from McSweeney’s to adapt the image, I got an offer to do a kid book – which was a big, exciting surprise.”
She’s played a lot of instruments in the past, from piano and flute to marimba and drums. She says: “I’ve never really performed as an adult, but I still sing constantly, and I go to tons of shows and I pretty much freak out if I can’t find my headphones. That will ruin a whole day.”
“I’m a little bit synesthetic,
so I often kind of ‘see’ music…”
As for Amy Martin’s favorite sounds from cities she’s lived in?
Hometown: “…the sound of my mom humming“
Los Angeles: “I lived next door to a pianist who used to play a lot of Debussy, and used to really like lying in my bed listening to him.”
Detroit and Ann Arbor: …”thunderstorms, mourning doves, and trains.”
Portland, where she lives now: “the sound of water.”
Symphony City got me thinking about the sounds of my own city: fall winds, helicopters, traffic, the rare tap of hail, mockingbirds. And also about the time my husband and I watched Touch the Sound, directed by Thomas Riedelsheimer, and then started drumming on absolutely everything in our apartment for a few days.
The film is a portrait of Evelyn Glennie and of sound and often city sound itself. Glennie began going deaf at a young age but as she says at the start of the film, “My whole life is about sound. It’s what makes me tick as a human being.” Indeed, she hears through vibration and reverberation. As what she describes as a form of touch. She can feel the sound.
Glennie is a seriously accomplished percussionist. Most fascinating is not just her talent, but her unconventionality. She performs in unexpected places using surprising objects as instruments, often barefoot. On the street using discarded soda cans. In an abandoned building. She innovates and collaborates. She listens. She responds. She teaches others. And inspires.
On a similar note (harhar), I once met a man here in Los Angeles who plays another unexpected instrument: the glass harp. Yeah, as in glasses you drink from. And it doesn’t sound the way it does when I try it on a wine glass for a whim. It sounds amazing. He wheels around a table with this whole set up, getting first funny looks and then appreciative listens.
This video is not the man I saw playing glasses, but is someone named Steve Kenny from a 1963 performance. Check it out.
And on the opposite spectrum of sound, there’s silence. Or at least silence from city noise. That’s the idea behind One Square Inch of Silence. It’s kind of what it sounds like. One square inch of protected land in Olympic National Park in Washington. Protected from human noise.
“The logic is simple; if a loud noise, such as the passing of an aircraft, can impact many square miles, then a natural place, if maintained in a 100% noise-free condition, will also impact many square miles around it.”
You might hear something if you visit, but it will be a stream or bird or wild animal or the wind. Or rain. (And guys, I’ve once been to the Hoh Rainforest and it is spectacular for sights AND sounds.)