You Have Our Strength, Hope, Courage and Wisdom With You On Your Journey




On 6/14/18 I set out early on a listening journey from Three Points to Sasabe, Arizona along the border with Mexico.
On the way I listened at the shrines of migrants who died in the desert, in the vast rolling expanses of the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, and to more mundane fare such as clusters of mailboxes.
There is a trend among some sound ecologists to expunge the sound of humans from recordings of soundscapes, to remove the so-called noise of humans, and in general to embrace a precious Disney-fied version of natural soundscapes.
To my ears this is a mistake.
When you listen to these recordings you will hear two distinct worlds: That of nature and that of humans.
These worlds intertwined tell the full story.
On the first track you will hear birds and insects but also a steady clicking sound. This is the sound wind manipulating rosary beads hung upon on a cross marking the place where a migrant died.
Every time you hear a vehicle pass it is likely a Border Patrol truck, some of which are filled with migrants soon to be deported.
On some tracks you will hear distant Department of Homeland Security helicopters circling over grasslands hunting for migrants.
On other tracks a Border Patrol plane can be heard flying low and slow above the mesquite.
Listen to how the world within this militarized zone reacts to the sonic stimulus -- the ebb and flow, the crescendo of rolling wind and the expansive landscape of intricate quiet.
And where in this soundscape is the sound of the migrant?
At a shrine I discovered a small knitted purse someone had left behind.
Inside were a series of handwritten notes in Spanish and English.
I removed one.
It read: You Have Our Strength, Hope, Courage and Wisdom With You On Your Journey.
I understood then the sound of the migrant was the sound of the desert itself, woven into fabric of everything.
The patrolling military machines in this sonorous desert space momentarily dominate the landscape with their sonic bluster and alien otherness.
But the sound is fleeting.
In the wake of the hunters, the eternal rises to fill the void: animal and insect, wind and sky, plants and rocks.
The migrant enters this soundscape by necessity.
It is a dangerous and often deadly exchange of sonic identity.
The sound of the migrant must blend and become one with the greater natural expanse to remain hidden.
To this extent the sound of the migrant can be heard in the buzzing of the insects, the calls of the birds, the crushing of dried grass and sand beneath hoof and paw, the song of the wind and the rumbling promise of distant rain.
I encourage you to listen to these quiet recordings with headphones if possible.
The story of the desert is in the listening.