Vic, Sarah and their daughter baby Holly are very lucky for neighbors. The land is harsh. There are dangers – obvious dangers such as brush fires burning hot and fast in tall wheat fields, and hidden ones as well: poison snakes in the grass, snags in the water hole, bindis in your socks. The Strong family has land which surrounds the school grounds. They have known the land very well for many generations. Garth and Jan Strong talk to Vic and me about their connection to the land and it’s sounds. For instance the direction and nature of approaching weather can be heard from the position of trees around the main buildings. The wind in a certain tree alerted Jan to a coming Nor’easter which lashed the buildings with heavy rains. Garth knows wind from the southwest when it flaps a bit of tin on a shed. The chickens have a special alarm cluck when they see an eagle overhead, the pigeons in the yard have different alarm cries for danger from the sky and ground, the powerful harvestor machine makes all kinds of sounds and vibrations that alert the driver in advance to mechanical problems that might cause breakdown or fire. A good ear can save on down-time and expense. The sheep, normally quiet, bleat when the lambs come. They don’t consider these things special, they are ingrained, just part of living on the farm.
Garth knows our interests and fires up the big Mack truck, lets loose with the air horn which echoes through all the great metal machines lurking in the huge shed. I ask for the loudest sound on the farm and he takes us to the shed housing the fire engine. Before I have a chance to adjust my dials there is a bone-shaking, teeth-jarring siren meant to be heard for miles around. Vic clamps his hands over his ears. I run for distance. Garth comes out of the shed shaken and rubbing his ears. I wonder when the volunteers will arrive in a cloud of dust, but it never happens.
Vic and I try the possibilities of kick drum sounds from 6 foot tall tires echoing into the bellies of vast grain trucks. Jan and Garth join in, getting in the spirit. There is an encyclopedia of great percussion samples here for the machine side of man’s nature, all of them larger than life off the farm. Garth takes us out back to see a stack of steel discs that are used to till the soil. We lift one, hastily rig it on a fencepost and insert the fencepost onto a type of special forklift stand. It fits just right and allows us to test out the discs for their sonic ranther than mechanical properties. They ring like the churchbells of Luxemburg! We are all ears now, trying different combinations, finding part of a scale, listening to combinations, putting more discs on a second post, turning two inward so the ringing can be heard in stereo up close. Vic finds that the listener can make their own mix of frequencies by choreographing his head in the space of the frequencies and scan through the sounds. Garth goes off to find a special part of a front wheel drive car to add to the orchestra as the high note.
When we are done it is magnificent, both sonically and visually. The disc blades, the stand, the core-ten rusted steel look, the massive scale, the whole thing is a beautiful musical sculpture. It is a real artistic collaboration between Garth, Vic and me. Were happy. We shake hands in congratulation. Vic and I take the disc blades in his car, and Garth arrives later with the heavy stand. It will be the center piece of our evening gathering when the “public outcome” is presented on Novermber 19th.