Thursday, 16 October 2014


text by Kierin Gorlitz

Hissing missiles of cicadas and the thundering blow of bullfrogs 
are the cannon fire of Matt Walker’s 
Device for the Emancipation of the Landscape. 
(T)his is no gentle nostalgia for an erstwhile soundscape; 
rather, the sound cannon delivers a forceful and focused aural reinvasion, 
projecting the cry of the wilderness into the sound of the city.
The invasion is successful.

 Within the range of the cannon’s blast, motors, car horns, 
and the drone of tires give way to birdcalls and the chirp of insects. 
There is poetic justice, here: all over the world, 
the sounds of industry and transportation have infiltrated ecosystems, 
masking the frequencies of wildlife communication. 
The native species have been forced to adapt or depart, 
effecting a transformation of these habitats 
as tangible as the construction of highways and skyscrapers. 
Walker’s Device achieves a telling reversal of this unnatural order, 
repopulating targeted areas of downtown ... environment with the 
long-muted sounds of marshland wildlife. 

... while drawn from and evoking nature, 
the projected sounds have a distinctly unnatural effect. 
Passersby are struck, as though with actual artillery, 
by the sudden barrage of nature’s cacophony. 
The cannon has been specifically 
constructed to incorporate parabolic reflectors that 
allow for a highly directional acoustic projection. 
The sounds are, in a sense, shot into the street, 
appearing both physically and contextually 
to come from out of nowhere. 

 One expects to encounter the sounds of 
a wilderness such as a marsh as a gradual, consistent 
wash through a wide-open space. In its natural 
surroundings, even the shrill cry of a red-winged 
blackbird integrates with the other chirpings, 
hissings and whirrings of its environment and settles 
into the pattern of nature’s chorus. 
To be assailed with these typically congruous sounds, 
all at once and out of context, has a startling impact. 
The sudden dissociation of sound and setting arrests passing listeners; 
the peculiar manner of the sound’s conveyance gives them pause. 

Within this pause, the listener is drawn to consider 
the two disparate environments suddenly placed in overlap:
 first the marsh and its organic symphony, 
with rhythms metered but consistent; 
then, looking outward, the city with its pavement, machinery, and architecture – 
an intricate panorama of the history of human influence. 
... thus seized, upon stepping beyond the cannon’s range and back into the city’s soundscape, 
perhaps the listener will seek out traces of wilderness amongst the traffic,
 picking up the sounds of birds and rustling leaves 
in an effort to make sense of the transition. 
Or perhaps, having passed through the sound of marshland, 
the listener will find the very city-ness of the street pronounced.

As is often the case when “what if ?” is the question,
Walker’s Device for the Emancipation of the Landscape
carries in it a note of optimism.
 Here is an invasion in the name of liberation, 
as the title of the work suggests – 
an effort to let loose the wilderness within the city, 
rousing the traces of it that exist here already, 
and releasing it into new areas to see if it may flourish. 
The naturalization of nature into this urban
environment may not be easy progress, 
but, as the strength of its sound suggests, 
nature is a force to be reckoned with. 
The time has come for the wild to
retaliate – this is its battle cry.

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