Six year ago this past May, I traveled to the Nogales border wall for my first sounding.

I was alone.

I was nervous.

I was armed with only a microphone and a cello bow.

Since no one had ever played the border wall before I had no idea if what I was about to do was legal. Considering the times we were living in, it would not have been a stretch to see someone construe my performance as an act of sonic terrorism.

But playing the wall and hearing what it had to say was something I knew I had to do regardless of the consequences.

Six years later the old Nogales wall has been torn down and in its place a taller, more formidable and permanent wall has been erected.

In the exact location where I first attached microphone to steel there are now signs which read: U.S. Property: No Trespassing.

On the Mexico side of the wall facing the U.S. a boundary sign has gone up as well.

Confusing since it appears even Americans aren't allowed on U.S. property which is blocked with a towering wall.

So much for this is your land, this is my land.

us boundary sign nogales


The other day I brought Eric Magrane, Adela Licona and Wendy Burk down to Arizona's Militarized Zone (MZ) for a sounding and discussion about things that might be.

They had never been to the walls in Sasabe, Nogales and Lochiel before, and it was an opportunity for the four of us to transform these locations with sound, images, words and ideas.

Although we were mostly strangers when we first met, it was a pleasure getting to know each of them and hearing their opinions about this brave new world in which we live.

Ever since 9/11 I’ve been struck by how much the southern borderlands have become a Militarized Zone --- something akin to a very large minimum security prison --- and this recent trip brought it all back home again.

Check points, walls, surveillance towers, and armed guards are everywhere, monitoring the citizen inmates closely and looking for signs of otherness.

In Arizona alone roughly 100 people have died since October 2011 walking around these walls and checkpoints.

And that is just the number of known deaths.

nogales wallIt is easy to see a brutal beauty in the design of these walls and the way they crisscross the desert landscape in an unfettered, Christo-like line of rusted hews.

But their industrial post-modern beauty belies a sinister purpose and functionality which can not be easily overlooked.

These border walls kill people, destroy cultural heritage and disrupt wildlife patterns and waterways that have been in place for thousands, if not millions of years.

And now politicians like Ron Barber support expanding this MZ 100 miles inland from sea to shining sea.

However, while certainly formidable, the border walls and towers of the MZ are vulnerable to transformation.

If it is accepted that the border wall can be repurposed as an instrument when played, then this symbol of fear and loathing is capable of producing beauty, encouraging listening, developing unity, engaging dialogue and presenting an alternative narrative.

Over the years I’ve brought upwards of 100 people to the borderlands to play the walls and listen to the desert.

I teach them how to amplify the walls and interact with the MZ while demonstrating techniques for performance which include listening to and physically playing the desert itself.

When done they take these skills and knowledge and stories and pass them along or take the process in all new directions.

People of diverse ages, gender orientations, professions, ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs and nationalities (some of whom have had to overcome real fears of deportation if stopped) have all played the border wall with me and I with them.nogales wall 2

In the case of Eric, Adela and Wendy, in addition to performance we also spent the day brainstorming all sorts of ideas, some of which will hopefully see light of day.

And I like to think that in each of their minds this militarized space was transformed from one of fear and violence into a place where the possibility of hope and change can exist.

Unlike a traditional instrument, a border wall can not be brought into a concert hall or a class room or hung in a museum.

 By its nature a border wall without a border is just a wall.

To see and play a border wall one must travel to the MZ, and make a sonic statement beneath the watchful eyes of armed guards.

For those anticipating dramatic changes, there is no Jericho moment.

Border wall playing is a transformation of wind and water, not fire.

It’s an instantaneous yet subtle transformation whose ripples roll far and resonate deep.

One has to only look at the daily site visits at SoniCanta to see the global reach.statistics sonicanta

To take it a bit further for those who are interested in such ideas…

There is no such thing as sound.

However, there is vibration which is transformed by the ear and mind into what we call sound.

Now, since matter at the molecular level is in a constant state of vibration, it is possible that playing the border wall has the ability to physically transform it by altering and interacting with the wall’s molecular vibrations.

I have no evidence of this happening. I have no proof.

After playing the wall it certainly looks the same as it did before.

But it is something interesting to think about if you are wired that way.

And who knows, perhaps one day someone will hit the perfect note while playing the borderlands and the walls will shatter like an opera singer with a wine glass.

To paraphrase the late great Yogi Berra : The transformation ain’t over, till the bowed metal sings.

Stay tuned.

sasabe 666