The Giant’s Sleep

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Project’s presentation
The Arizona desert is sprinkled with old windpumps, relics of the American dream. The Giant’s Sleep (provisional title) intends to give them a second life, a new reason to spin, by activating several sound installations. These windmills will be transformed into atypical musical instruments, which will be played by the wind. The swinging of the central tube, previously used for operating the water pump, will become an arch used to make one or more tightened strings vibrate, the same way a double bass works.

Is it the snoring of a sleeping giant who’s dreaming? Or perhaps his breathing, sights or whining when his dreams become nightmares?

Just as those of Don Quixote, windmills will become alive. If we go out to meet them, it won’t be to battle against them, but to listen to them. Asleep with one eye open, those iron ghosts watch the dreams of those who cross the desert. While migrants cross in search of a better life, their sound resonates as an echo in the vastness of the desert, scattered with remains of a western conquest that seems distant. 

Thousands of people try to cross this border to get into the United States after days of walking, unfortunately sometimes this has a sad outlet. Three thousand have died in this desert in the last twenty years. Without pointing directly to these facts, the project proposes a reflection on this matter. The sleeping giant is not only making us hear something, but inviting us to an active and politic listening of this space; a listening to our contemporary world beyond the sonorous.

The central pole is guided by a board, situated in the middle of each windmill

Site specific sound installations
I was able to identify several of these windpumps in previous travels to Arizona, specially in 2010, 2012 and 2021. Their squeaking and chirps caught my attention since then (a sound example here).
Each of the installations will be unique, depending on the shape and conditions of the re-awoken windpump. The central pole is generally guided by a wood board allowing it to maintain its axe. The pole’s back and forth scraps the board, so it creates an already interesting sound. That being said, the sound level is relatively low and we don’t perceive it when getting away from the windmill.

The sound installation will use the same procedure, but by fixing rudimentary double basses on the pylon of each windpump, in order to make the pole rub the string(s), like a bow. Each of the double basses will be made of a soundboard, constructed with recycled elements found in the desert or in the nearby junkyards. The soundboard can be made from a can of gasoline, a flask, a barrel, a car tank or any hollow element that allows it to resonate. 

At the top, I will put a counter bass bridge, one or more strings, a stick as a handle and tuning pegs. The constructions will depend on the gathered elements and will be different each time. I will use a workshop at Arivaca where I will keep the tools and build these elements.  Like this, each windpump will have a unique sound. The notes produced by each installation will be tuned, in order to convert each specific sonority in a geographic and sound mark of the desert.

Video installation
The site-specific sound installation will be ephemeral, the end of each concert will be determined by the weakening of the strings or the destruction of the makeshift counter bass. The performance of each windpump will be sound and video recorded. With this sound and visual material I will then create a cartography, that will be available online, allowing us to follow the progress of the project and to show a final track of the whole process.

A sound and visual installation will be realized, consisting of 8 screens (or projections) in a 16/9 vertical format, spreaded in the exhibition space. Each video will represent a windpump, in a fixed frame along with its sound (reproduced by a speaker). The space of the installation will become the desert, the visitor is invited to wander in the heart of this string orchestra playing at the will of the wind. The synchronicity between the image of the windpump accelerating or slowing down according to the sound of the strings will allow us to clearly understand the relationship between image and sound. When the windpump stops between two gusts of wind, the moments of silence will be valuable in order to listen to the desert’s soundscape. Each of the videos will be independent with a duration between 30 and 60 minutes. This will allow to create an 8 instruments combination that will be different at all times, and rarely be repeated.

Example showing the arrangement of the screens for the exhibition

The sound piece
A new sound introduced in the soundscape questions the relationship between the place and its relative silence. It will also be an excuse to meet the potential inhabitants, human and non-human, and have a dialogue with them. With the help of my microphones I will register what is offscreen of the mills, that which is invisible nevertheless fully present (as the sonorous). That which does not appear in the image, that which is between the mills, spaced by few meters at the exhibition space, but several hundreds meters in the desert. 

In dialogue with the sound of the 8 mills, there will be a quadraphonic sound installation reproduced from 4 speakers located in every corner of the showroom. In an immersive sonic experience, we will hear the cows, the farmers, the birds at dawn, coyotes at night, the inhabitants of the nearby villages, the border patrol, humanitarian associations that come along the desert or migrants, usually discreet. This sound piece will be based on the recordings made during the project, and the encounters that will take place.

Detail of a cistern where migrants who have been there wrote their names along with the date.

Connections with Arivaca’s community
By living immersed in a village I necessarily develop connections with the inhabitants. It is an experience I already had during previous projects. Beyond the unexpected connections, I imagine possible collaborations with the youngest, through the Arivaca Action Center or the village school. Together, we would try to listen to these asleep giants, draw them or imagine them and maybe even dream beside them.

Rains of May, a project made in a little village in Mexico, 2020

Relationship with past projects
I have been able to work with sound installations in the natural space with different past projects:
The installation Rumors from the sea (Thailand, 2018) made 150 flutes blow using the energy and the wind from the sea waves, inviting us to listen to the sounds coming from the sea.
Rains of May (Veracruz, Mexico, 2020) is an installation that lets us hear the tears of a tree. In the center of the village of Telaya, the drops that go down the branches and leaves of the tree fall on little metallic drums.
In my last film, Desert Lights (San Luis Potosí, México, 2021) I could experiment and work with the space of the desert and the myths that are part of the imaginary world of the people living in San Luis Potosí state.

Mills map identified in 2021 in Arivaca’s region

Project done with the assistance of the Prefecture of the Occitanie region – Regional Directorate of Cultural Affairs