November 06

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“It’s an industrially-produced medieval monster. However, I’m getting to know it.”

About a year ago I traveled to Arizona to write about the U.S.-Mexico border wall. There I met Glenn Weyant, a musician who ‘plays’ the border wall and makes strange and fantastic recordings of what the border sounds like. I played a ‘duet’ with Glenn in Nogales, Arizona and wrote about it here. I also spoke about Glenn’s work during my TEDxCalgary talk.

A few months after I left Arizona, the U.S. replaced the old border wall in Nogales, built of rusty helicopter landing mats recycled from the first Gulf War – seen above as Glenn plays it with a cello bow – with a more modern construction of bollard pipes filled with concrete slurry that looks something like this:

The new wall allows Border Patrol officers to see through the barrier and spot anyone approaching it. The new construction also inspired drug-traffickers to change their tactics and produce bundles of narcotics just small enough to be pushed through the pipes. The old wall failed. The new wall fails.

After my time with Glenn, I was less interested in how the new wall was working than how it sounded. I contacted Glenn and this is what he told me:

My first take was dull and dead compared to the old one which, as you know, was sheets of metal rather than slurry filled pipes. It’s an industrially produced medieval monster. However, I’m getting to know it and I’ve begun discovering “how” to play, amplify and transform it. I’ve also been learning where to place the custom mics i’ve built and where they pick up sound the best. Yesterday the wind there was real crazy and the wall was literally humming from the vibrations. That was a nice surprise. So it’s like any new instrument. There is a bit of learning curve, and it will require lots of practice and some seasoning over time, but I’d say it is already showing great promise as a multi-million dollar instrument rather than a symbol of fear and loathing.

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