An outdoor Cascade Locks musical experience

While Cascade Locks was bustling Saturday evening with hikers gathered for Pacific Crest Trail Days, people out at the nearby Government Cove donned headphones and wandered winding dirt trails, gazed across the Columbia, picnicked in the grass and scampered up Government Rock — all listening to a pianist playing live from a grand piano set up on a truck-trailer.

I’ll admit that I was skeptical going in. Well — less skeptical and more resigned to the fact that it was going to be a very weird evening. And it was.

“In a Landscape: Classical Music in the Wild,” is a unique outdoor concert series where the pianist, Hunter Noack, plays live on a nine-foot grand piano, transported to different rural landscapes across the Pacific Northwest on a trailer that doubles as a stage.

This piano has sat in the dunes of Cape Disappointment, on the shores of Timothy Lake, beside the monstrous Sumpter Valley Dredge and, most recently, against the basalt cliffs of Government Rock in Cascade Locks.

While these venues would prove an acoustic nightmare to most, Noak’s music is transmitted via wireless headphones given to each attendee when they enter the venue, allowing every concert-goer the freedom to explore the landscape as they listen.

I didn’t know how surreal it was to watch dozens of people occupying the same space, have totally separate, solitary experiences — as if each person truly believed they were alone — until you’re standing next to a piano in the woods wondering if you’d somehow wandered into a very relaxed zombie apocalypse.

Definitely weird. But, to my surprise, I loved it.

A lot of that had to do with my sister, who was staying with me that weekend and agreed to tag along.

I really sold it to her, too:

“Hey, I have to cover this weird piano thing Saturday night, you can come if you want but you don’t have to.”

“Meh, I’ll come.”

Many treated the event like a regular concert and parked themselves on blankets in a semi-circle around the piano. There were no rules against outside food and drink, so some even set up elaborate picnics (with wine, of course) to enjoy while Noack played. My sister and I did our own version of this: Plopping down on the grass with a bag of fast food.

We were able to just wander up, exchange an ID for two pairs of headphones, and head in. Ticket prices vary between venues, but In a Landscape is often able to offer a number of free Arts Access tickets at the door. Buying either a donation ticket or a cheaper regular ticket guarantees entry and reserves a set of headphones.

My sister held down our picnic spot while I spent most of the evening taking photos of others experiencing the unique concert.

She’s in a band program at the Hawaii Pacific University (and a talented flutist and oboist in her own right), so she was able to explain to me why In a Landscape was so remarkable as a musical form: There’s a profound difference between live music and recorded music, she said, with pros and cons to each. Here, you could have the best of both: The high-quality sound of a recorded piece and the interactivity between audience members, the artist, and the venue. In a Landscape combined both experiences together to create something entirely new.

Noack’s next shows are Sept. 1 at Lewis & Clark Timberlands and Sept. 2 at Orenco Woods Nature Park.

For more information, including directions to the venues and ticket pricing, visit www.inalandscape.org.



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