The image above is of my ELF (Extra Low Frequency) receiver… laid on the ground and connected through a Zoom digital recorder… in the middle of one of the many bulldozed dirt roads near the 1/4 acre plot or so that makes up the epicenter of the PLAND residency.
The ELF receiver is something I got as a present a couple of years ago and …. (being the metropolitan sort that I am)…. I never managed to find all the cool sounds that it’s possible to hear because I never got far enough away from power lines and the like.
My visit to PLAND was my first time using the receiver effectively, and the results were fun and interesting if a little underwhelming. Frankly, I had forgotten that dawn was the best time to hear the elusive “whistler” or the “dawn chorus” and so the results were pretty basic … the crackling static of lightning.
What you will hear in the 2 recordings I will feature here are the sounds of lightning storms recorded in the daytime and the night. In the night recording you will hear the wind, as well. That recording was made as thunder and lightning actually circled the area, though I suspect the immediate lightening storms had a negligible effect on the sound if they had any effect at all other than the sound of wind.
afternoon lightning storms hundreds of miles away
evening lightning storms not necessarily so far away
The afternoon recordings are the sound I was monitoring as I sat in the middle of the bulldozed road in the glaring sunlight with my dog Skyla at my side, re-reading Samuel Delaney’s “Empire Star”…. in fact, I was finishing the novel for the second time [spoiler alert] and was at the part where the circuitousness and self reflexivity of the text is becoming most apparent, the part where it seems that all the characters are simply different versions of the same subset of characters that you meet in the first pages of the novel, characters begin to meet themselves… you start to believe the book you are reading is a container for a world in a way that only the best writers can do. With this novel there is little need for the suspension of disbelief as the language and the author’s logic casually and artfully develop a new cosmology.
So.. with that bouncing in my head…. I listened to lightening storms that were exciting the lower depths of the electromagnetic spectrum from either the other side of the world or the other side of the mountain. The distance makes little difference to the aesthetic quality of the sound. When waves are traveling at or near the speed of light … distance is flattened… and..in a way… so is time.
It was interesting to explore this notion of time as I sat out in this “off the grid” land.
Recently I re-watched the movie “Off the Grid: Life on the Mesa” which may or may not have included a cameo by a man who recently lived near where we were staying….a man who…. under circumstances rife with much speculation, passed away…. shortly before we arrived. In the opening shots of this documentary, one of the men interviewed reflects on the fact that when you live as off the grid , as these people do, there is no need to know what day of the week it is, or what the day of the month is….and there is something to that in one’s experience of the place……even if we only stayed there 2 nights this time.
I was at PLAND with my collaborators in the Topographia collective..a new and unusual endeavor that is leading me to explore areas of artistic practice that are fairly foreign to me. We have given ourselves the task of documenting this strange place where the land is subdivided like a post-apocalyptic suburb (interesting that our fellow resident Sophie Mellor was reading Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” while we were there)… but, in fact, this is a very much pre-apocalyptic suburb. It never got made… it never had services… no power… no water..no waste facility..no public park… just a whole bunch of 1/4 acre plots that keep changing hands for small sums of money. Many just sit waiting to fall into the state’s hands so they can be auctioned off to folks who (by the looks of it) just wanna get away… the land seems like many “idyllic” communities we have all visited at on time or another, and because of our experience of the inexorable march of capitalism…. it is hard to fathom that this community grid we are in the middle of just stopped developing after they bulldozed trails through the place at about the location of a suburban housing block. Unlike my friends Jon and Sarah who started d-flux in the re-wilding suburbs of Detroit, the women of PLAND have started their residency on the simply wild land of the Taos Mesas. It’s a suburb, but one that only a very dedicated or very desperate person would want to… or even be able to … live on. A very different and unintentional kind of suburb. Wild in many ways, even if our most immediate neighbor pretty obviously had a working TV set in his parked RV.
In a way similar to those around us on this land… the four of us in the collective got away… While there, we surveyed the land with our paces, we doused for water, we videotaped the perimeter, and I recorded the sounds the earth was making at that moment ….. while I sat in the middle of a road that passed by a mobile home with a flag draped cross in front of it…. and that mobile home sat several 100 feet off the road…. That guy’s nearest neighbor…was maybe us…and he was 300 paces up the road,and probably 100 or 200 paces off the road. I sat quietly as I still feared disturbing our neighbor…. I read Samuel Delaney… I scolded our dog Skyla when she barked at the occupant of the house as he walked to his 4×4 and left…. and I heard lightning that crackled at some very far and some not so far distance away.