H-E-L-L-O (Infra-Sound/Structure), June 7, 2014, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Did you know that female elephants emit growls so low that human ears cannot hear them? Like infrared light, the sonic vibrations of infrasound escape the range of human detection. Maybe it’s a good idea, as we move through our cities, to focus on the sounds we hear with the same level of attentiveness we apply to what we see. In the low frequencies, sound can travel far or travel loud, but it’s difficult for it to do both. This sonic handicap is an apt metaphor for tactics of social justice and protest. It is through sound, bass more specifically, that humans access their sixth sense: the ability to feel vibrations.
H-E-L-L-O enlists the lowest musical frequencies to communicate the margins of what is audile, what is visible. Significant sites associated with buried histories, erased communities, communal triumphs, and enduring survival become the stage for a five-note musical improvisation. Nine bass-clef musicians (sousaphone, bari sax, bass sax, contrabassoon, cello, and trombone) perform the five-note sequence made eternal in Steven Spielberg’s 1977 film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The film’s place in the contemporary imagination may have waned but its influence on science fiction aesthetics endures. Its title comes from a classification system devised by American astronomer, Dr. Josef Allen Hynek. Born in 1910 in Chicago, Illinois, Dr. Hynek was commissioned as a U.S. Air Force Ufologist from 1947 - 1969. In 1972 he published a book, The “UFO Experience”, which describes three levels of encounters with unidentified flying objects. Close encounters of the third kind are defined as, “UFO encounters in which an animated creature is present. These include humanoids, robots, and humans who seem to be occupants or pilots of a UFO.”
Spielberg’s film features an enigmatic five note sequence: G - A - f - F - G that repeats throughout the narrative eventually becoming legible as a greeting in the film’s final sequence in which the Mothership lands (returning a dozen kidnapped Air Force pilots) and aliens disembark to greet astounded engineers and astronauts with Kodaly sign language.
G - A - F - F - C
H - E - L - L- O
“Hello”, a simple greeting dispensed as an exchange, a furtive gesture of recognition, good-will, and curiosity. One New Orleans constant present throughout its grand history is its indomitable spirit. As a “new” New Orleans emerges and past cultural traditions move to the outer rings of the city rather than nestled within the Mississippi’s crescent bend, there may be some elements of everyday New Orleans to which its inhabitants must say good-bye.
But with an ear pressed to the banks of the Mississippi, one might hear an eternal love song for and from the city’s low end: deep funky electric base lines, crawling river sediment, thundering sousaphones making tree leaves shimmer, a plaintive lion’s roar, a riverboat salutation, the sub-Saharan foot stomp of a captive elephant, or the long slow slide of the trombone. Quite coincidentally, Michael Watson, the trombone player appearing within the first frames of the film, showed up for our tape session wearing a T-shirt (his favorite, he declared) that read: “Listen To Your City.” Listen indeed. And say, “Hello.” — Kelly Gabron.