LISTEN WHILE YOU READ
Last week on 4/20 I was called in for jury duty but at the last minute was absolved of performing my civic duty.
Faced with an abundance of unexpected free time, I decided to take a trip to the border for one last sounding of the Nogales Wall (W6 Section) before they began tearing it down.
Instead of playing the wall as I’d often done in the past, this final time I decided to make two simple recordings.
One of the surrounding Nogales Wall sound ecology itself: The birds, the dogs, the cars, the people, and the wall creaking in the morning sun.
And another of the internal sonic environment of the wall and the sounds it both absorbed and emanated as a sprawling acoustic resonator along the arbitrary dividing line between Mexico and The United States.
Engaged in listening with headphones snugly on, I was aware of a vehicle pulling up behind me.
Turning, I saw a white truck from which a man dressed in a white hardhat and wearing a neon yellow vest emblazoned with a castle on the back emerged.
His name I learned was Merrill, although I am not sure of the exact spelling.
Merrill walked over, determined and cautious with a camera at the ready.
"Howdy," I said facing him.
“What we doin?” he asked.
"What's that?" I asked.
"What we doin?" he repeated.
“Um, recording the sound of the wall?” I replied.
"O.K." he said.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
"I'm with The Army Corps of Engineers and we're replacing this fence," he said.
And so the conversation began.
I eventually learned his name and that he was an enthusiastic wall builder who did not question why walls were built but rather why walls were not built.
Merill was a man of few words but one thing in particular struck me as very interesting. He said that the The Army Corp of Engineers wanted to build a wall that was “environmental.”
Considering the estimated cost of tearing down the old wall and building the new 2.8 mile wall is roughly $41 million (not including maintenance), I asked him if perhaps the design could have included a few innovative elements which would promote renewable resources and economic stability for people on both sides of the border such as solar panels or rain collection.
(EDITORS NOTE: On the audio I incorrectly say it will cost $4 million for the 2.8 mile wall. From what I've read, that estimate was from 2010 so apparently costs have escalated a bit.)
Merill said ideas such as solar and rain collection had been considered but were rejected.
When I asked him why they were rejected he said I’d need to write my congressional representative about it.
So this past week I sent letters to my congressman, Raul Grijalva, plus Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Senator John McCain and Senator Jon Kyl asking all of them those very same questions (a copy of the letter is attached below).
When and if I learn more I’ll be sure to pass it on.
My name is Glenn Weyant and since 2006 I’ve been playing The Nogales Wall with a cello bow and implements of mass percussion. My goal in this process has been to try and transform the wall from a symbol of fear and loathing into one capable of promoting unity and communication.
I’ve also been documenting the changing sound ecology in the border area with regular field recordings.
On April 20, I visited the Nogales Wall for a final recording session before it was dismantled and replaced with the new and improved Nogales Mega-Wall.
During that recording I was approached by a man who said he was from The US Army Corps of Engineers.
While he did not produce any identification nor provide me with a business card, he did say his first name was Merrill (I am assuming I am spelling his name correctly here).
Since I was already in the process of recording the wall and surrounding environment, the conversation we had was documented by the microphones and I’ve enclosed a copy for reference.
Merrill was cordial and enthusiastic about building the new wall and also said one of the goals of the Army Corps of Engineers was to build a wall that was “environmental.”
I thought this odd considering the impacts the walls have already had on riparian areas, pristine desert and migratory routes so far.
With the cost of the new wall topping roughly $41 million by some estimates, I asked him if any innovative ideas had been considered beside the usual approach of metal and cement.
Two ideas floated during our conversation included solar panels to supply surrounding residents on both sides of the border with electricity for economic development and rain collection for water.
To my surprise Merrill said those ideas were “good” and had been considered but that if I wanted to know more about why they were rejected I’d have to contact my congressional representative.
So I guess that is what I am doing with this letter.
Obviously the wall is deemed necessary for security purposes, but my question is: If we must have a wall then why can’t the wall be used to promote and develop communities and relationships on both sides of the border along the path where it is being built?
A couple years back I learned of the work of an architect named Ronald Rael and he graciously sent me a series of wall designs which do much more than simply act as speed bumps.
Instead these walls would, in my opinion, help foster stronger economics and good will on both sides of the border --- A PDF is enclosed on the disc.
Any thoughts on these issues would be much appreciated.
Stay tuned and thank you for your time,
Back in 2005 when the The Anta Project began to take shape, The Nogales Wall cleaving the sister cities of Nogales, USA and Nogales, Mexico was a prototype for the American border wall building that was yet to come.
It was a slap-dash construction, cobbled together from Vietnam War-era helicopter landing mats running just under three miles. When the wall was completed in 1994, migrants crossing from Mexico into the United States simply walked around it.
And as a result they began dying by the hundreds in the surrounding Sonoran Desert.
Around 2007 when border wall mania was gripping the nation, a series of new walls uniformly built from industrialized columns of towering metal poles, cement, slurry and mesh were constructed.
The walls varied in construction depending on the terrain and the sounds they produced when played with a bow or mallet varied as well. Almost universally, the finest sounding wall was the Nogales Wall.
The metal interlocking tines of the landing mats could be bowed, the plates could be percussed and as the sun rose heating the metal, the wall creaked and popped and groaned at dawn, acting as a sprawling resonator for the sounds of life on both sides of the border.
When The Anta Project began, it was always my hope the wall could be transformed from a symbol of fear and loathing into something which would create beauty and communication.
Over the years through countless hours of practice, I’d developed a variety of techniques specific to playing that wall, in particular the W6 Section.
I’d also brought easily 100 people there over the years to play it, observe it, recite poetry before it, or to simply contemplate the nature of walls.
This month the old Nogales Wall is being replaced with a new industrial wall that is higher, deeper and more formidable seeming than before.
Where the old Nogales Wall was a solid mass of metal, the new wall of towering posts has plenty of spaces between them allowing for Americans to see Mexicans and Mexicans to see Americans.
It is my hope that within these spaces lies the antidote to the fears that cause us to build walls to begin with. For the first time in more than a decade, Nogales residents on both sides of the wall will be able to see each other clearly and the commonalities that unite rather than divide.
Sonically, the new wall presents some exciting challenges as is the case with any new instrument. The pipes are square allowing for corners to be bowed, with plenty of smooth sides for amplification. The tops also promise to deliver some interesting acoustics during periods of wind or rain.
And perhaps best of all, the spaces will offer more opportunities for communication via multi-national playing.
On April 1 I had a chance to meet with a small group of traveling artists and educators at The Nogales Wall for a sound walk and playing session.
As it turns out, that April Fool's Day group session will likely be the last one to take place at the old wall.
Artist Shawn Skabelund visually captured those last moments nicely and a musique-concrete composition from the day is now available for the listening.
BIKE-CENTRIC INSTRUMENT WORKSHOPS
In other news, I’m fairly excited about a series of bike-centric instrument workshops I’ll be leading at BICAS in Tucson (April 30-May 28).
For a couple of years now it has been a dream of mine to get a group of people together and turn them onto ideas for building instruments of original design then turn them loose.
During the MOCA installation which featured repurposed bike part instruments, I met BICAS arts and outreach coordinator Casey Wollschlaeger who said she was interested in revisiting the idea.
After a few months of planning, chaos and epic Spinal Tap-esque drama the workshops have finally become reality.
There was a great article in a local pub called Zocalo and The Arizona Daily Star. Since the articles appeared in print, the person who was to teach the electronics portion of the class (amplifiers and such) had to unfortunately drop out due to unforeseen consequences.
The workshops are now a sonicanta venture and focused clearly on building instruments and using them in both performance and composition. The class has also been tailored to be much more “kid friendly” than before and we knocked the fee down by a third to $20. That’s less than $5 per class!
For those interested in participating there is still time to register, but they are filling up fast. Visit the BICAS site or contact them for more details.
THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE FACEBOOKED
First the CIA gave us LSD.
Then the military gave us the Internet.
Now social media is being tinkered with to monitor and control the hearts and minds of those who follow such things.
I'm not ready to don my tinfoil hat or begin inspecting my fillings for radio tracking devices, but I have become wary and weary of Facebook and other social media as of late.
Between the bots, the scammers, the marketeers, the government and the posers I've decided to let it go.
When I announced this decision I was inundated with emails from people who cheered the decision or talked about their struggles to use Facebook for professional purposes only.
The emails were unexpected and it was wonderful to be in so much good company.
Here are a few of my favorites:
“Screw Facebook, Glenn, it's 90% for idiot communication!”
“I think it's for the best, Glenn. In the relationship with Facebook. We are the salable product. It definitely makes for a strange union."
“I am actually getting ready to drop Facebook myself. I only log onto it once a month at best anymore.”
“I hear you man..I might need to do that too!”
"wow! i admire that, glenn. bravo."
You can still be my friend on Facebook and you can like my stuff, but from here on out it will be a static site, more a portrait of Dorian Gray than that of Glenn Weyant.
If you were a Facebook friend or are a fan of the service, please do not take this personally and please stay in touch via the usual channels.
I am interested in hearing about you, your projects and all the other stuff.
Interestingly, since dropping Facebook I’ve found the traffic at www.sonicanta.com has picked up by twenty-five percent of so. Including the usual U.S. Government listeners and watchers. Hmmmm... how about that?
LOTS OF NEW SOUND
In sound news a couple of projects are finally available. Here they are in no particular order:
1. WILDLIFE - A series of improvised and traditionally composed sound conversations recorded in early April, between Kestrel Weyant and myself which explore ideas about listening and options for sonic response.
WILDLIFE is a download-only release featuring old-time folk songs presented in new-time settings, two game pieces and a 30 minute sound exploration for birds, wind, rain, planes and bowed strings.
2. jimpani kustakwa ka jankwariteecherï - A new release by the Estamos Ensemble
on Edgetone Records and due April 27.
About six months ago, musician and sound pioneer Thollem McDonas was in contact about a double-disc set the Estamos Ensemble was putting together and asked if he could include a version of John Cage's 4'33" for the Nogales Border Wall.
Naturally I agreed and the resulting two disc release - jimpani kustakwa ka jankwariteecherï - does not disappoint.
As Thollem notes in a recent email blast: "The Estamos Ensemble album will be released this month on Edgetone Records. It's a double disc album with world premieres of pieces written specifically for us by Pauline Oliveros, Ana Lara, Jorge Torres Saenz, William Parker, Joan Jeanrenaud, Vinny Golia, Nels Cline, Juan Felipe Waller and myself. Plus 5 duo improvisations from our YBCA concert in August and 4'33 seconds at the Nogales Wall by Glenn Weyant."
3. For Japan - Following the devastating tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan a fundraiser was put together by musicians at the website ImprovFriday with100 percent of the proceeds (minus PayPal and Bandcamp charges) going to benefit the Red Cross. Good listening for a good cause and I was proud to be a part of it.
4. Unreal City Sounding - Last but not least, the basis of a soundtrack for the performance of Unreal City which utilized an abandoned Arizona mining town as an instrument, is available as a download. Some of the tracks are raw. Others are worked and reworked into various compositions.
Verbal reviews of the April 1 Unreal City performance ranged from "violent" to "beautiful." Bottom line : No one who saw or heard it could ignore it. They had to pay attention. They had to think.
And to me, that is what it is all about.
I was hiking in the desert when I heard the news that a gunman had shot 20 or so people ---- killing some and gravely wounding others.
Over the coming hours and days new details about what happened emerged both in the media and in conversations with friends and family.
It seemed everyone knew the victims or at least someone who did.
Of course murder by gunshot is nothing new in Tucson.
People shoot each other here all the time, just as they do in the rest of America .
On New Year’s eve, the sound of small arms fire in Tucson is as common as fireworks.
Guns are also routinely trafficked across the border to Mexico in exchange for drugs and money.
In the remote desert, gunshots can often be heard, echoing off the rocks. So common in fact that I know of places where I can play music to their accompaniment on almost any day of the week.
But this one was personal and hit home with people across the country.
Partially because some of the victims were public figures. Partly because it all seemed so random. But I think mostly because deep down we all suspected something like this was bound to happen eventually.
Some say it was the fault of easy access to powerful guns.
Others say it was the violent political rhetoric and fear mongering that gripped the last election cycle.
As for myself, I think many factors played a roll in focusing the madness that was already brewing in the gunman and an exact cause will never be known.
When someone decides to destroy, they will find a way to do so.
If not with a gun then perhaps with a knife.
Or maybe a bomb.
Or perhaps something commonplace like a plane full of passengers on an impossibly beautiful fall day.
To my mind the tools of destruction matter less than the emotion that leads us to destroy.
And that emotion is hate.
Which is birthed by fear.
Fear of ideas.
Fear of otherness.
Fear of change.
When fear grips the soul, giving in to hatred and destruction can seem empowering.
But it never is.
Just as destruction will never eradicate the fear that one feels.
Creation, however, is difficult.
To create one becomes vulnerable.
To create one is open to new ideas and possibilities.
To create one is not afraid to love.
None of these things are ever easy.
Those who were shot or killed in Tucson were creators.
They were the same people you will find anywhere on the plant, simply going about their days on a warm Saturday, trying to create a better society and a better world.
Some did this though politics.
Others by living a good life.
The true motives of what happened in Tucson will never be known.
And what happened can never be undone.
But perhaps from this moment something new will take hold.
Perhaps we'll all learn to create a little more and to hate a little less.
And perhaps someday we will be brave enough not to need all these guns anymore.
After that we wandered around BANWR some more trying to figure out where we were and how to get back.
From a distance we watched the Guard watching us as we crested a ridge and I snapped a shot of their camp.
Along the way we got back into the flow of the rolling horizon, filming, listening, pondering.
Eventually we arrived at the visitor's center where a volunteer listened to our story.
He showed us a few maps and we noted where the incident occurred. He jotted down a few facts, reminded us to sign the guest book and handed us copies of the BANWR newsletter before saying adios.
Later that night I visited the BANWR website and at the bottom of the page saw a link stating: "Portion of the Refuge Closed ."
Note: The BANWR map on the left shows "The Red Zone." The map on the right shows the approximate location where the incident occurred as detailed by the red box.
Following that link I discovered there is a "Red Zone" along the lower half of BANWR on about 3,500 acres near the border and we must have entered the refuge on a road which had been shut to the public.
However, not once did we see signs notifying us of this closure.
And all of the maps we saw at the visitor center made no mention of the closure although the road is clearly marked.
In addition, the location where we were stopped, as best we can tell, was beyond the "Red Zone."
And this story is not to place blame.
The National Guard we encountered were just doing their job and were likely newly deployed.
What I am more concerned with is how wrong the situation could have gone.
For example, instead of being a couple of lost looking middle age white guys with binoculars, what if our appearance had fit the generic drug runner or migrant profile?
Or what if we had legal weapons in tow for hunting or shooting?
What if instead of complying we decided to bolt from the area, concerned the men with M-16s who did not identify themselves were not who they said they were?
The "what if's" are endless.
But the point is, if BANWR is going to deem a portion of their public land a "Red Zone" and have the area patrolled by National Guard with M-16's, I'd think it would be imperative for the public to be made aware of where they can and can not go.
From what we saw, the potential for something going awry is great, now that the "Red Zone" is being treated as a defacto war zone.
A war zone lying within a tourist destination that encourages camping, hunting, birding and so on.
All that said, 10-10-10 didn't disappoint, and despite the birding-at-the-point-of-a-barrell wackiness, I still look forward to returning to BANWR.
Red Zone or not, it is still one of the best places to bird on earth.