Inhabited: Sounds of the Sonoran Desert

Inhabited: Sounds of the Sonoran Desert is a sound installation and performance that I presented in the Diane and Bruce Halle Skyspace Garden at Arizona State University. My motivation for this project is to bring awareness to desert animals and their fragile habitat. I used field recordings of animals including gila monster, western diamondback, javelina and bobcat as source material for the sound installation. These sounds are then combined and manipulated in juxtaposition with the sounds of ASU’s suburban campus (cars, people, airplanes, HVAC systems, and city dwelling birds), and are triggered by a musical performance.

The technical requirements are simple, unobtrusive to the location, and battery powered: two Bela-Board microcomputers, 2 Zoom recorders (for microphone input), 3 small speakers, and Roland Cube Street amplifier. The Bela Boards run a Pure Data patch that combines sound playback triggered by frequency and amplitude data from the zoom microphone. Each micromputer is loaded with a different mix of sounds. The incoming audio from the Zoom recorder is processed with filtering and delay creating trails and alterations to the sounds in the space. My aim is to both heighten and alter the listener’s sense of place. The live sound input affects the envelope and volume of the pre-recorded wildlife sounds, making their playback responsive to the garden’s sonic environment. The coexistence of these sounds in the same space serves as a metaphor for the coexistence of cities and wildlife habitats within the Sonoran Desert region.

The performance aspect of Inhabited: Sounds of the Sonoran Desert is a prepared-guitar improvisation. Drawing inspiration from Bennet Hogg’s paper The Violin, The River, and Me (2014) as well as his performances with the Landscape Quartet, my focus is on using the guitar not so much as a musical tool onto itself, but as a stimulator, or exciter of the sound-installation. The amplified sound of the guitar feeds into the zoom recorders microphone and affects the sound playback as another aspect of the environment. By “preparing” the guitar with objects including alligator clips and playing with various wooden objects, I hope to focus my improvisation on texture and sonic interaction with the environment by removing the temptation to fall back on melodic or harmonic tropes. Though the installation would be functional without the guitar performance, I hope to add indirect but observable changes to the sounds generated by the installation through musical gesture and improvisation.

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