altar valley

The other day I was wandering around the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge (BANWR),  listening to grass and watching wind when I spied a truck with some sort of high-tech scanner darkly military-grade observation-gizmo-thing hooked to the back and parked atop a distant hill. 

“Fellow nature enthusiasts?” I wondered.

Moments later a Border Patrol truck drove up. The driver asked if everything was okay. I lied and said I was watching birds, trying to fit an acceptable profile. Listening to grass and watching wind was too weird. He flashed a peace sign and drove off. Hearts and minds.

border radar

Appreciation of grass acoustics is an acquired taste but if one listens, really listens, in a place as expansive as BANWR, there is as much subtlety and nuance and grace to be experienced as in any classical music performance. Hear grass here.

Every blade, stalk, stem, seed and leaf bows and percusses the grass around it creating an undulating chorus, propelled by the ebb and flow of breeze and wind.

About eight years ago when there were only barbed wire fences and train rail barriers delineating the arbitrary border of Mexico and America in this area I played what I found and recorded grass was featured extensively on The Anta Project track titled Transference.

Today there are walls and sensors and all sorts of virtual security devices in those places. And despite the militarization, migrants still die by the hundreds, drugs are still smuggled to supply America's insatiable demand and the roadrunner vs. coyote games continue. 

A bit to the west, in the shadow of Baboquivari, an international gas pipeline is now being proposed by those who believe in such things and opposed by those who believe this land has suffered enough.

Already a newly bladed road, wide enough to fit two eighteen wheelers side-by-side has appeared on the Mexican side of the border.

The river of power and people flows both ways.

altar valley

In recent years it has become increasingly fashionable for classical musicians with musty mediocre careers to try and distinguish themselves with brave acts of populist pseudo-dadaism, such as playing instruments not usually considered instruments --- sheet metal, wire, structures and the likes.

In so doing they inevitably wind up imposing their sonically rigid biases of what is and is not music via their moldy tropes of scale, pitch, harmony, and composition, stripping the sonic potential and essence of the object played of any worth.

And this got me to thinking: If classically trained musicians insist on playing non-traditional instruments in traditional ways, then perhaps it is time for me to apply what I've  learned playing the world to classical instruments.

I began with the  viola and eventually moved on to the cello, combining the techniques I’d been  perfecting in the borderlands  --- bowing, percussing, rubbing, scratching ---  with nuances of voice, breath and radio signals.

No part of the cello would be off limits. The scroll, the profiling, the end piece, the tail piece, the fine tuners, the pegs, the segments of string below the bridge, the back and top ---- everything would be fair game. No right or wrong, no good or bad. Only honest sound intentions.

I had an opportunity to try out some of these ideas recently on a bill with some wonderful artists in an intimate space.  The audio is HERE and if you listen very closely, a minute or so before the applause at the end, there is a moment where you just might hear everything I learned from listening to grass in the borderlands.

Stay tuned and thanks for listening.


glenn weyant