At first listen, Noah Wisch’s original song “Sidewalks” sounds like any other ukulele tune — it’s leisurely and relaxing, evoking an island breeze as it washes over you with its soothing strums. But pay attention to the number of notes played throughout the track, and you’ll count 351 — the same number of towns in Noah’s home state of Massachusetts. This, of course, is no coincidence, and to create the music video for the song, Noah and his girlfriend, Emmalie, embarked on a miniature road trip around the Bay State to play one note in every town. Along the way, they learned a lot about the state they thought they knew so well. Check out the video below, and then read on to hear what Noah had to say about the inspiration behind the track, the challenges they faced in making the video, and the most surprising moments from their trip!
Where in Massachusetts are you from? How would you describe your upbringing there?
I’m from Stow, which is about an hour west of Boston. It’s a small, rural town with a lot of apple orchards and golf courses. Growing up, I spent most of my time playing sports, making silly videos with my friends, and creating music. I think the fact that there wasn’t a whole lot going on there taught me to look at the world a little more creatively.
I see you go to Emerson. What are you studying there? How do you like the school?
I’m finishing up my senior year as a visual and media arts major with a minor in music history and culture. I like it here. It took me a while to find my place and figure out what exactly I wanted to do, but it’s definitely been a rewarding experience. I’ve learned a lot — about academics and the world around me — and met some really inspirational people.
What was the inspiration behind “Sidewalks?”
The summer before we made the video, my girlfriend Emmalie and I took a three-week road trip around the United States — it was such a fun experience. We wanted to do another trip the following summer but didn’t have the funds for it. So, we decided to do a mini road trip around our home state.
I have this problem where I can’t help but try to turn all of my life experiences into video projects, so once we had decided on a Massachusetts road trip, the idea came pretty quickly. I’ve been working hard to produce videos for my YouTube channel (BananaCactus Ukulele), and I wanted a way to incorporate the ukulele into a travel video without just using it as background music. So, I decided to design the travel around the song itself. I’m a fan of the editing technique in which the subject stays stationary while the background changes from shot to shot, and this idea was just an extremely tedious version of that.
How did you go about tackling the project?
The first step was writing the song. I needed to ensure that the melody had exactly 351 notes (one for each municipality in Massachusetts), which was a fun challenge on its own. Then, I entered all of the cities and towns into a spreadsheet alphabetically and wrote out each note of the song, in order, in the column next to it. When we got to each town, all I had to do was open the spreadsheet, find the town, and play the note listed next to it.
I knew I wanted to take each shot in front of one of the white “Entering [town name]” signs at each border so that there would be a constant to line up from frame to frame. Also, these particular signs are unique to Massachusetts, which added another layer of local flair to the video. Once we marked all of the sign locations, we divided the map up into chunks and established three “base camps” around the state from which our routes would start — my apartment in Boston, my parents’ home in Stow, and my aunt’s home in Northampton. Each night, we’d plan out roughly which chunk of the state we wanted to tackle the next day. And then, we’d set out each morning to try and hit as many towns as possible — which was usually somewhere between 20 and 30 per day.
What were some of the greatest challenges you faced throughout the process? How did you overcome them?
The fact that the entire thing was filmed on the side of the road presented quite a few challenges. Since we were recording audio, we were constantly waiting for breaks in traffic to make sure we could get a clear recording of each note. That was especially tough in urban areas, and there were quite a few instances where we had to spend five or 10 minutes just waiting for cars to pass. Another challenge was safety. At quite a few of the locations, I was basically standing in the road, and there was a lot of honking and even yelling and swearing from nearby drivers. I named the song “Sidewalks” because of the newfound appreciation I had for them after doing this project. In retrospect, there was no clear-cut solution to either of those problems other than to just “deal with it.”
What surprised you the most about Mass?
I was most surprised by how many roast beef sandwich shops there are here. I had no idea. Also, the existence of the town of Gosnold was pretty shocking to me. It’s this tiny little island off the coast of the south shore with a population of fewer than 100 people. Everyone drives golf carts there instead of cars. It was very surreal — like a miniature world I never knew existed.
What moments stand out from your journey around the state?
As complex and challenging as the production was, my favorite part was honestly just getting to drive around all day with my girlfriend. There were so many little things we laughed at and so many new places that we explored together. Road trips are great because of all the places you get to visit, but to me, they’re really about getting to spend time with people you care about. I feel lucky to have shared the whole experience with her.
That being said, there are a few moments that were particularly memorable for me:
- Balancing on a guardrail while Emmalie stood on top of the car with the camera at the Amesbury/Merrimac border so that I would be visible among the overgrown bushes covering the sign
- Skinny-dipping in a river on the side of a road through the forest in the western part of the state
- Riding on a ferry for two-and-a-half hours to get to Nantucket, filming for 10 minutes, and then hopping on the next ferry back because we still had more towns to get to that day
- Getting stuck in two separate July 4th parades
- The many beautiful sunsets we saw on our way home each day
- Filming shot number 351 of 351 (Blandford) and then not knowing whether to laugh or cry when I realized we had made it to every single town
What did you learn about Massachusetts that you didn’t know before?
Looking at a map, you get the feeling that the state isn’t very big, but there is so much packed into such a small space. There are communities tucked into every little corner of the state, a place for everyone to feel at home — whether in a big city or a quiet farm town. It’s a beautiful place, and I certainly gained a much deeper appreciation for having grown up there.
What do you hope people take away from watching this video?
To quote one of Emmalie’s favorite movies (Pixar’s “Up”): “Adventure is out there.” There are no rules for exploring the world around you. The best adventures are the ones that you create for yourself. I hope this video inspires viewers to think creatively about the world around them — and to maybe even go on a wacky expedition of their own.