Mauerkrankheit (Wall Disease) : A psychological affliction first identified in East Germany among residents living in proximity to the Berlin Wall. With the global proliferation of militarized border walls it is believed Mauerkrankheit has become a perpetual and pandemic condition. TBC: A style of music rooted in borderlands everywhere.
Some time in 2006 I began applying the bowing, percussion and amplification techniques I was developing for creating sound work with the border wall along the U.S. / Mexico boundary to traditional string instruments.
I began experimenting with a viola modified with a segment of border wall detritus and a piezo amplification device used to amplify the border wall and objects within the militarized zone.
Eventually these ideas migrated to the cello for the expressive dynamics, modal access and physicality the larger instrument provided.
I learned to play the cello by first learning to play the borderlands of the southern United States militarized zone and then transferring that knowledge to the cello.
Whereas the extended cello techniques heard on these recordings began as a means to address and explore the implications of collective psychogenic Mauerkrankheit hysteria and the militarized border zone insitu, today --- fourteen years later --- border wall music has no reason to be marginalized nor bound by such site specific considerations.
I began chronicling these ideas publicly in the early 2000's, all of which led up to the release of the 2015 three-disc series: Mauerkrankheit: Border Wall Music For Cello / Cello Music For Border Wall.
Over the foloowing years I gradually experienced a flip in sonic perception where I understood the cello did not sound so much like a wall but rather the wall sounded like a cello.
This was music rooted neither in thought or expression but rather experience.
A distillate that was more Mauerkrankheit exorcism than anything traditionally considered music, let alone cello music.
All of the bow work heard in these performances utilizes three central techniques or "Mauerkrankheit styles” I've been developing.
Lochiel Barrier Bowing Technique - A percussive style bowing suitable for eliciting tones from the steel train rail vehicle barriers found there.
Nogales Border Wall Bowing Techniques (Old & New) – A style of long bowing calling for a firm grip and ample stick manipulations to produced deep resonate tones which were featured on The Anta Project (2006). The original Nogales Wall --- built from a series of repurposed military helicopter landing pads --- was demolished in 2010. The New Nogales Wall is a taller, “deader” sounding wall constructed from pipes filled with a concrete slurry. Techniques developed for this segment of wall emphasize copious amounts of rosin, manipulations of bow hair, stick, and nut along the surface of the wall and support beam resonators.
Sasabe Border Wall Bowing Technique – This style of bowing emphasizes harmonic overtones and the “bell-like” nuances which can be achieved by manipulating segments of the wall where there is damage or shoddy construction.
The first recording in the series -- Mauerkrankheit --- is a two part composition.
The first is a multi-track soundscape built of field recordings from within the Sonoran Desert borderlands of Southern Arizona, United States / Northern Sonora, Mexico.
The second is a cello composition which was performed/written in response to the field recordings heard in the first recording, just as I learned the border wall is played in response to the landscape’s natural/unnatural environment.
With the release of Mauerkrankheit and bringing the cello to the forefront it was my hope border wall music could now be performed in venues where more traditional music is played yet retain its authenticity and sense of purpose and passion.
DREAM WALL ON AN INFINITE HORIZON
The second release in the series of Mauerkrankheit series was Dream Wall On An Infinite Horizon.
Unlike the first release which was entirely acoustic, Dream Wall On An Infinite Horizon was all about excessive amplification, feedback, distortion --- a regular feature in many in situ border wall performances.
The combination of Mauerkrnakheit style playing and amplification heard on Dream Wall On An Infinite Horizon createed an evolving and steadily shifting soundscape for presenting the idealized, translayered multi-phonic harmonics and one-of-a-kind tunings which are often a corner stone of live performances in the borderland militarized zone.
During the mixing of the final recordings which were recorded in single, extended takes, it became clear that Dream Wall On An Infinite Horizon sessions bore resemblances to well-worn and much beloved bootleg recordings by The Theater of Eternal Music and The Dream Syndicate.
It was therefore decided the recording should be titled with due reflection and high acknowledgement to that mighty strand of sonic DNA which was injected into the global subconscious by La Monte Young, John Cale, Angus MacLise, Tony Conrad and Marian Zazeela.
Coming off the heels of Dream Wall On An Infinite Horizon the third album was all about the space between signal and noise.
A signal is put forth, returns, is put forth again, and so on infinitum.
Minute changes in pitch or timbre – caused perhaps by a fluctuation in voltage, an ambient variable or an intentional action – lead to new and different signals evolving, never quite the same, reflections of reflections, a seemingly endless Ouroboros.
Over the years I’d been drawn to the correlations between acoustic feedback loops and those which shape cultural, political or religious perceptions.
An idea is broadcast – usually by a group of leaders – which initiates the feedback loop.
If the idea resonates with the collective hive, it becomes absorbed and woven into existing cultural belief systems, ethics and moralities.
Eventually the idea is sent back to the leaders in the form of majority support for political action or religious dogma.
Once received by the leaders, the looped idea is rebroadcast back to the collective majority in the form of laws, edicts and calls to action.
And so the feedback loop goes, gradually shaping and shifting public discourse and policy – for both good or ill depending upon the idea – until the initial idea itself distorts beyond recognition and loops of new forms emerge.
Shortly after I released Mauerkrankheit I received an email from a borderlands-based cellist / playwright whose work I admire.
He suggested I consider a different German word for a future release: vergangenheitsbewältigung.
I’d no idea what vergangenheitsbewältigung meant, but as I did my research I learned the word was coined at the end of World War II to describe the process by which Germans and Germany came to terms with their past – understanding how Nazism rose and took hold in their country – while simultaneously looking to define a new path for the future.
In other words, vergangenheitsbewältigung described perfectly a moment of alteration in Germany’s collective feedback loop.
Without knowing the word to describe it, I suspect a form of American vergangenheitsbewältigung has been at the heart of every bow stroke, percussion tap and field recording I’ve made in the United States and Mexico borderlands over the past 10 years.
At the time I began my border work in 2005/06, hundreds of migrants were dying every year along the southern United States and northern Mexico border.
Local laws were being enacted making skin color a criteria for investigating potential criminal behavior.
Pristine desert was bladed and border walls were erected.
Drones populated unpopulated skies.
Bulk data was collected on everyone as men, women and children were rounded-up at gun point, stored on overloaded buses and shipped to detainment facilities were they were processed and eventually deported, often stranded without such basic personal possessions as cell phones or bank cards.
How to break this vicious feedback loop and develop a more humane future reality was a question many wrestled with.
For myself the answer lay in borderland guerrilla art gestures neither sanctioned by authorities nor blessed by grants, which I hoped when combined with the actions of others – activists, academics, politicians, clergy, students, artists, and more – could create enough momentum to alter the hive's entrenched feedback loop of fear and loathing of migrants which had gradually set in after September 11, 2001.
In some ways the situation has certainly become better over the years, but far too much of the same-old same-old remains.
Every year migrants die by the hundreds in the American borderlands as politicians scapegoat this vulnerable population for votes, walls are still called for, and everyone is suspicious – some more so than others – based simply on the color of their skin.
At the same time international migration and border militarization has become a global pandemic.
No country is immune to mauerkrankheit anymore.
We are all infected.
If history is any judge, it seems to reason vergangenheitsbewältigung will eventually have global resonance as well.
When this latest period of darkness passes – as it always does – at some point we will ask ourselves: How could it have happened here?
And: What did I do – or not do – to make it possible?
Mauerkrankheit Volume III: Vergangenheitsbewältigung is a sonic manifestation of these ruminations and likely the final work in this series of solo cello compositions using only borderland amplification and bowing techniques.
The score for Vergangenheitsbewältigung is relatively simple but offers an infinite number of possible outcomes.
To begin, a feedback loop is created for amplified cello via careful adjustments of the mixer’s settings.
In response to the feedback signal, the cello is played mostly in a “mauerkrankheit style” – using techniques perfected to bow border walls – with the intention of creating unique harmonic anomalies or tones which cancel, enhance or in some significant way alter the steady feedback signal being broadcast.
An acoustic vergangenheitsbewältigung environment between the sound of the past (feedback signal) and the future (cello signal) is recognized and engaged, until a seemingly logical conclusion is reached.
The work is concluded when the volume is lowered and the feedback fades. This is a work of unspecified duration.
A WALL OF TREES UPON A DESERT OF SNOW
Finally, in 2019 --- roughly one year after migrating South of the Border to Vermont in pursuit of all that wasn't and all that could be --- the Mauerkrankheit series began to take on new forms and directions as I worked to liberate border wall music from site specific marginalization.
I began rethinking the concepts of borderlands and the idea any single place could be considered a borderland and another not seemed preposterous and perhaps was exactly the kind of thinking that is ultimately enables wall builders by supporting the ideology of fear and loathing embraced by border purists in the first place.
This migration of thought and spirit took form of the fourth release in the series: a wall of trees upon a desert of snow.
At this point, I have little else to say on the subject of Mauerkrankheit.
From here on out it is all in the listening.