Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Musician turns border fence into wall of sounds

Glenn Weyant uses mallets on the fence in Nogales. He says the border is an appropriate place to make music because it’s haunted with stories.

Los Angeles Times

Glenn Weyant uses mallets on the fence in Nogales. He says the border is an appropriate place to make music because it’s haunted with stories.

On a windy day in southern Arizona's remote borderlands, Glenn Weyant had everything he needed to make music — a cello bow, a mallet and the miles-long fence dividing the United States and Mexico.

His method, like his music, was improvisational and low-tech: He inserted electronic equipment into an Altoids tin, turning it into a microphone. Weyant filled the tin with magnets and pressed it against the fence a few inches off the ground. Wires attached to the tin led to an amp and several effects pedals — the kind electric guitarists use — which allow him to manipulate sounds.

Desert scrub, mesquite and sun-bleached rocks would serve as his audience; sometimes they do double duty as instruments.

"Nobody thought of the border wall as possibly anything other than something to separate people," he said. "I transform it. I play it."

For eight years, he has tapped, banged and stroked the fence to produce haunting, sometimes ethereal, sounds in a region he has called the "de facto militarized zone." Compositions can last a minute — or more than half an hour. "I'm a border deconstructionist," said the 50-year-old Tucson resident. "I want to deconstruct preconceived notions. What I'm saying is you don't need to be afraid of the wall. You have nothing to fear."

He moved to Tucson 19 years ago when much of the border fence in southern Arizona was barbed wire. It seemed forbidden. He didn't know whether he could even touch it. "Am I allowed?" Weyant recalled wondering.

Though people tend to stay away — at least on the northern side — it's not against the law to touch it.

The New Jersey native had been drawn to unusual sounds his whole life — as a boy he enjoyed listening to the hypnotic pattern of his grandfather's electric fan. One day in 2005 — a time of growing concern about illegal immigration and terrorism — he decided he wanted to hear what sounds the fence could make. "It was a symbol of fear and loathing. I wanted to transform it into something else … an instrument so that people on both sides can have open dialogue and communication," Weyant said.

He experimented with drumsticks, mallets, violin bows and cello bows. Sometimes he'd use sticks found on the ground.

In Nogales, he played a fence made of repurposed helicopter landing pads, sometimes creating a staccato sound. He'd capture the noise from birds landing on top of the fence, and the sounds of cars and people passing through the port of entry.

In Sasabe, he created a delicate raspy sound when he put a violin or cello bow on rusty mattress wires ranchers had stretched between fence posts to keep their cattle from straying into Mexico.

The results, he said, were beautiful.

Weyant is more interested in creating effects than melodies. His recordings can sound like wind chimes or have the flutelike breathiness created by blowing across a bottle top. Other sounds resemble moans, whistles and clicks and suggest whale songs or the ambient noise on a New Age relaxation tape. "Some people describe it as nails on a chalkboard," he said. "It can elicit a repulsion, fear, eeriness. It can be ethereal. It's something that can be expansive."

People who have stumbled across Weyant sometimes looked on from afar, unsure of what he's doing. Others have approached him and stayed for a private concert. "Making the inhumane, humane and human," one person commented on a YouTube video of Weyant making music. "Bravo. Beautiful. Inspiring."

For the most part, Border Patrol has left him alone. "I'm a white male playing the border wall," Weyant said. "I'm aware of my privileged status."

Musician turns border fence into wall of sounds 03/04/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 4, 2014 9:49pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Trigaux: How Moffitt Cancer's M2Gen startup won $75 million from Hearst

    Business

    TAMPA — A Moffitt Cancer Center spin-off that's building a massive genetic data base of individual patient cancer information just caught the attention of a deep-pocketed health care investor.

    Richard P. Malloch is the president of Hearst Business Media, which is announcing a $75 million investment in M2Gen, the for-profit cancer informatics unit spun off by Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center. Malloch's job is to find innovative investments for the Hearst family fortune. A substantial amount has been invested in health care, financial and the transportation and logistics industries.
  2. A boat lays on its side off the shore of Sainte-Anne on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, early Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, after the passing of Hurricane Maria. [Dominique Chomereau-Lamotte | Associated Press]
  3. 7.1 magnitude quake kills at least 149, collapses buildings in Mexico

    World

    MEXICO CITY — A magnitude 7.1 earthquake stunned central Mexico on Tuesday, killing at least 149 people as buildings collapsed in plumes of dust. Thousands fled into the streets in panic, and many stayed to help rescue those trapped.

    A woman is lifted on a stretcher from of a building that collapsed during an earthquake in Mexico City, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. [Rebecca Blackwell | Associated Press]
  4. FHP seeks semitrailer truck driver that left fiery wreck on I-75

    Accidents

    TAMPA — The Florida Highway Patrol is looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an Interstate 75 crash that left another car burning on Tuesday afternoon.

    Troopers were looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an accident scene on Interstate 75 in Tampa on Tuesday afternoon that caused a car to catch fire. [Courtesy of Florida Highway Patrol]
  5. Joe Maddon gets warm reception in return to the Trop

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The night was arranged to honor former Rays manager Joe Maddon in his first visit back to the Trop, and the standing ovation from the bipartisan crowd and scoreboard video tribute seemed proper acknowledgments of his hefty role in the Rays' success during his nine-year stint.

    Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon (70) talks with reporters during a press conference before the start of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017.