Erika: As someone who thinks through sound, what comes to mind in a landscape like the salt flats? Was the experience what you thought it would be? How did your questions change during our time there?
Ryan: When we first arrived at the visitor center that overlooked the flats, I couldn’t help but be completely immersed in the sound of traffic behind me and the wind that was blowing over the flats. It seemed that two worlds were coexisting but I didn’t realize how interconnected they were until I started recording.
E: I love how we each understand things differently once we start recording. There’s a saying in photo that you photograph something to see what it looks like photographed.
R: Totally. And there was so much wind moving over us, breaking over our ears. You realize that a lot of what we hear in the world is mediated through reflection off of other objects. You’re often hearing the sounds of something else bringing the sound to you.
E: That’s so interesting, and not how I usually think of my experience of sound.
R: But in a landscape like this - deserts, salt flats, open spaces - you get a sense that you’re really hearing the air itself. That there’s this distance inherent to it, like we can perceive the mountains in the distance. When you get to hear wind in such an unadulterated way you start to realize the shape of the space itself.
Does that translate visually? For instance, how do you see your relationship to the roads in these open spaces - a sort of artificial horizon that help define the desert landscape? There are many roads in the video that we made together.
E: I notice them formally first, as thin lines that cut through the vast landscape, plus the thin lines of things like the fences which demarcate military land. And I connect that mentally with the shore lines that Jonathan has pointed out, as a geologist, lines which cut across the landscape in their own way and provide a map back in time. He and I played with this idea actually, of us to actually stand on different shorelines and look out. So we are standing on different points in time, making an image of that time but not by photographing the line itself but by looking out at the landscape from the position of the line.
So we made the following set of photographs together:
R: It’s strange too to think how humans have set the land speed records here.And in doing so they are breaking the sound barrier on these roads/salt, cutting through the landscape at record speeds. As opposed to those super slowly changing shore lines which evolve over tens of thousands of years… and since how far back?
E: All the way back to the Ice Age. And yeah, the sheer range of ways that we can think about time passing, or see evidence of it in the material of the landscape, is pretty extreme within this one landscape. What were you thinking about when you created sound for the scenes that I patched together?
R: So the first half is simply the sound of air passing through the window of our car as we were driving. There was this moment when we were leaving the plaque about the land speed test and Jonathan decided to “reenact” our own land speed test. I cracked open the window just enough to get the mic to capture the air rushing by without completely obliterating the mic signal with wind. Capturing wind sonically is difficult. And the second half is Claire’s voice at a distance with a shotgun microphone during the quietest moment of our trip, during an early morning excursion. She’s essentially calling back to me 100 feet away with these upward moving glissandi. But both are a way of dispelling breath over distances, with different perspectives of distance and moving air…
E: That’s nice because in the moving image shots I was trying to play with movement from wind, since it’s such a still space overall. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether we’re looking at a photograph or if it’s a video, but then little things like branches in the breeze reveal subtle movement. And that’s all that signals that we’re looking at a moving image and not a photograph.
R: Yeah, the stillness is exquisite! I wanted to play with the potential for movement as well. There are lots of passages, roads, entry ways, even a road block, so a history of movement and traversing is embedded within the landscape.