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’ve 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.
When I first released Mauerkrankheit – a German word roughly translated as “wall disease” which I have also adopted to describe techniques developed to amplify and play militarized borderland landscapes – I received an email from a local 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 this project 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.
As always, thank you for listening and I look forward to hearing your feedback!
Glenn Weyant / soniCanta.com