Rock of ages cleft for me

August 2, 2022

I want to cut a mountain in half. A small one. Like so.

Gordon Matta-Clark – Splitting (1974).

I’m not talking about the coal industry flatlining the EEG of West Virginia one decapitated summit at a time.

In the spirit of performing geological processes for art’s sake, I figure, if the Green River running through Dinosaur National Park could split a mountain down its middle, I should be able to slice my way through a molehill – with elbow grease and a big enough water knife.

It would be a neat trick. Neater still: putting the peak back together again.

The northwestern half of Split Mountain, Utah (+ Eva for scale).

(I Can’t Get No) Liquefaction

July 31, 2022
Emerging from a 50-story underground system of wooden ladders (2016).

Ground materials of certain types – saturated, uncompacted sandy soils, most typically – will lose cohesion when shaken by an earthquake and behave temporarily like liquids. During such episodes, all manner of dramatic curiosities have been witnessed: mud volcanoes and quick clays; colossal, snaking sand blows (the subject of a seismic Urne Buriall I will present at the Denver AAG next year); cars swallowed by parking spaces; utility pipes bent upward like piloerective hairs on the back of a frightened cat.

Years ago, while my friend Geoff and I jawed about mining futures at Devil’s Punchbowl (and the yolk in my skull hard poached), I, ah, floated the idea that liquefaction might be deliberately induced for purposes of uplifting an ore body, or even an archaeological find.

More recently (after pressing palms with David Copperfield), it occurred to me that it might also be possible to induce liquefaction in a field so that a person (this person), buried alive, rises out of the earth. Sort of a reverse image of Keith Arnatt’s Self-Burial (Television Interference Project) or Oddvar I. N. Daren’s Measuring the Depth of Snow – except, you know, actually happening; experienceable (by the onlooker, not just by me) in ways – and at scales, temporal and otherwise – determined by geophysics not Photoshop.

Keith Arnatt – Self-Burial
Oddvar I. N. Daren’s Measuring the Depth of Snow

A spot to do my thing.

July 29, 2022
From the summit of Guadalupe Peak.

Been pondering where exactly I might build an art studio remote enough not to disturb the neighbors with lurching/heaving earth. Someplace where I can park a whisky-stocked double-wide, ride horses and a personal boring machine, induce seismicity, summon lightning, harvest moonlight, dig and refill massive holes, manipulate hydrothermals, and launch purpose-built satellites, etc. as I please.

The Mojave and Sonoran deserts feel like obvious candidates, as do parts of the Colorado Plateau. Another possibility: the Permian Basin.

Back in 2020, after shaving my plague beard on the edge of Ciudad Juárez (with a head full of Marty Robbins and Roberto Bolaño’s 2666), I drove six hundred miles of slate rain through the West Texas wastes listening to Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Fog bobbed between mesas like a spirit level, a long boxcar train fed a thunderous gatling gun in the distance like a belt of ammunition, and faerie trees were aflame: solitary towers of open fire burning excess natural gas in the otherwise-empty immensity of the prairie.

“They rode on,” but something inside me was snagged on the place.

The year before, in the midst of a trip to Marfa to see Donald Judd’s late work (maximalist context being an externality of Minimalism), Eva, my sister and I had climbed to the highest point of the basin – the summit of Guadalupe Peak (2667 meters) – for a good look around.

300 million years ago, when what is now Texas formed part of Pangea’s western equatorial edge, a narrow channel connected the surrounding superocean to a big inland sea with three arms: the Marfa, Midland, and Delaware basins. The Delaware was approximately 150 miles long and 75 miles across. Starting ~275 million years ago, a thick reef began to form along its rim. The reef developed for millions of years before Hovey Channel began to close. Choked off from the ocean, water in the Delaware Basin evaporated faster than it could be replenished – precipitating its salts out onto the muddy seafloor. Within a few hundred thousand years, the entire basin had filled in with these soft, bedded deposits. The reef was gradually subsumed by dry land. 80 million years ago, however, compressional forces from the Laramide orogeny cracked Texas open, producing huge new faults and uplifting buried sections of the Permian basin thousands of feet in the air. The comparatively soft outer layers of this escarpment have been weathered away, re-exposing a towering marine necropolis.

And I had thought: It might do.

Steep pitches.

July 25, 2022

Embodied geophysics

July 4, 2022
At the rim of Double Negative; original photo taken by Marco Ferrari.

Dispatch from Rwanda – May 23-25, 2022

June 5, 2022

On the 23rd of May, we transited west from Kigali along one of Rwanda’s radial asphalt spokes, past the royal seat of the abolished Mwami, from the merely hilly into the properly mountainous, and descended into the nebulous Albertine Rift among shoeless men who straddled the frames of their bicycles downhill at breakneck speeds (no feet on the pedals, striking exaggerated poses of thoughtfulness), children kicking soccer balls made from inflated condoms wrapped in plastic bags and covered with stitched banana peels, Alpha and Omega buses dangerously careening the s-curves, flipped freight trucks being uprighted, survivorless, with crowds of thick ropes. Colobus monkeys and duikers sheltered from rain on the roadside, punctuated by uniformed soldiers armed with AK-47s or tactical shotguns who patrolled the edge of the Nyungwe forest, and looked up at us from WhatsApp occasionally, disinterestedly, as we flashed by. 

We were ultimately deposited on top of a lush local topographic maximum overlooking Lake Kivu and, across it, the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

We spent the next morning (literally) running up and down mountain steeps behind a wizened, machete-wielding pygmy, tracking camera-shy chimpanzees through a barely penetrable fragment of the oldest, largest montane rain forest in Africa. 

Driving back down to the Top View, I had what I thought was a (mystic? Suprematist?) vision of a giant black cross floating among achromatic clouds in the distance. As it turns out, it was a cruciform methane extraction plant in the middle of Lake Kivu: a pilot project meant to tap hydrocarbon gasses that are dangerously pressurizing its lacustrine depths to the brink of limnic eruption for purposes of local energy production. 

That afternoon, we returned to Nyungwe proper. In the building where we hired our guides, they have the skull of the last elephant to have lived in the forest – shot to death in a bog by poachers in 1999 – mounted on a dais. The plan, now that they have poaching under control in that area (as they do throughout most of the country), is to reintroduce elephants within the next few years. Swapping snake stories and spotting an occasional Rift endemic, we set out in a downspatter for some sweet new sky bridges the park has slung up seventy meters (i.e., twenty-three stories) high in the canopy – which makes them either the tallest or second-tallest structures in Rwanda, depending on whether you count the spire on a skyscraper in Kigali.

Either way, they afford a hell of a view. 

Our last morning in-country, we 4x4ed a narrow, treacherous track of busted rocks and (soon-to-be-flowing) mud up and around a mountain on the edge of Nyungwe that 60,000 people were slaughtered on the flanks of in just one hundred days during the 1994 genocide – past menthol orchards and tea plantations caffeinating the Commonwealthy everywhere (else), and community work parties, and tiny kids with baby goats on verges overlooking our vehicular folly screaming, “Mzungu!” (“White people!”) or, open-palmed, “Money!”, and the occasional bare-chested man shuffling downhill with a whole tree balanced on his head, or people pushing old bicycles laden with hundreds of pounds of whatever uphill through mud crevasses, or heaping piles of sun-baked bricks pitched onto the path because who the fuck is going to drive up _that_?! 

We parked in a meadow at 2300 meters and plunged into a buffer forest of exotics grown by the government as an arboreal sacrifice zone – to offer locals something other than the incredibly slow-growing indigenous trees to illegally log when,  in their acute poverty, they need to make ends meet. At the far edge, where the vegetation blurs back into Nyungwe’s, surrounded by a once-a-fifteen-year bloom of flowering trees, there is a muddy upwelling – a mere burble – beneath some dark green ground cover and a white orchid that is the farthest source of the Nile. 

A few feet past it, the water is already gaining stream. We each drank cupped handfuls of the river’s cold clear beginning. And that was that.

Dispatch from Rwanda – May 22, 2022

June 4, 2022

Having followed a female tracker (wearing a Coco Chanel backpack and carrying an AK-47) and a former poacher turned porter who hacked through tangled jungle up the flank of a volcano with his machete, our legs and arms burning with stinging nettles (and a spirit level of burst blood vessels bisecting my right eye where I’d caught a whipped branch) – at the portal to a densely thicketed enclosure near the tripartite juncture of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo – a 500-pound gorilla named Agashya stood in front of us and basically said, “I will fuck you up.” The guides vocalized gorilla sounds for a while. He thought about it and replied with “fine.” Then trundled off and let us hang out with his enormous 23-individual family without beating us to death.

So, permission asked, and explicit consent given.

Photo by Nicky Twilley.

Throughout the experience that followed we made noises like we were clearing our throats, to indicate we were homies. Whenever the babies got too close, we made a different gorilla noise to indicate they should move away. They mostly did.

Gorillas getting pissed.

That said, I was playfully, repeatedly, punched and kicked by the larger juveniles feeling their oats. All of them were drunk as lords from chewing bamboo shoots that ferment in their guts. As I told Eva, who asked if they were scary: they were, sometimes, but they were also tender, and mischievous, and – at the risk of mistranslating their emotions into our own based on false cognates – loving. Of each other – not of us, of course. We were just a troop of scrawny, wretched-looking, occasionally amusing primates they put up with during their siesta.

After an hour, it was time for us to clear out. The second largest silverback, who the guides call “VP”, let us know this in no uncertain terms. First by charging me.

Wait for it…

Then, his final pronouncement. Crank your audio for this one. It might win me a Pulitzer.

The Ballad of Sassy and Lean [A Work in Progress]

May 30, 2022

Pursuit of Trivia – Part 2: The Mercy Seat

May 13, 2022

Hydrothermal slosh in the plumbing of the Phlegraean Fields produces a characteristic long period, low frequency (0.4-1 Hz) microseismic tremor. Persistent higher frequency tremors (in the 5-15 Hz range) associated with other volcanic features are also present. An obvious question: do lunar (and lunar-solar) earth-tidal effects influence this seismicity? The work of Simona Petrosino and Stéphanie Dumont (and others) suggests that the answer is ‘Yes’.

Here’s what I want to do. To honor Hekate Trivia – in whom Selene (moon), Diana (woods), and Proserpine (underworld) are conjoined – and whose seismic footsteps were the terrifying signal that the katabasis in Aeneid Book VI should commence – I want to erect a golden throne in a cave near the ruined oracular complex of the Cumaean Sibyl, and install a network of Raspberry Boom infrasound monitors in the grove of Q. ilex sacred to Diana that still surrounds it.

Because these low-frequency tremors are inaudible (human audition is in the range of 20 Hz – 20,000 Hz), I think it makes sense – following the lead of recent projects like Hertz by Graeme Marlton and Juliet Robson – to either wire the throne with a transducer that will cause it to shake, face a large subwoofer onto it, or both. The idea is to monitor local microseismic infrasound, filter the data, extract the relevant amplitudes, use them to modulate sound waves at the lowest threshold of human audition, and push those through the subwoofer and/or transducer into flesh and bone. I’d like to be able to do this in real time and, ideally, find ways to isolate and emphasize gravitational arpeggios detected in the holy forest by robot fruit as one sits below in hypogeal darkness on an electrified throne quaking with moon music played on a super volcano.

Field Works – Part 1

May 4, 2022

I initially considered building a bathtub-sized version of a magnetic field cube: a big clear tank full of a magnetorheological fluid, or else ferrofluid (on sale now for $230 USD/L!), with a hidden rotor built into its base (or else mounted on a teeter totter) to help re-randomize the distribution of the particles between applications of a large magnetic field. So, something like a Damien Hirst vitrine, but for field lines.

But why stop there? Imagine how beautiful it would be to build a colossal tank like this (I almost wrote “along these lines”) at, say, Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela, where lightning strikes up to 40,000 times a night for half the year. Something truly massive, so that whenever the lightning struck, the iron filings (or magnetite nanoparticles, or whatever) would organize architectonically at cyclopean scales: the vaulting ribs of an electromagnetic cathedral, of an ephemeral planetary gothic.