Aeolian harps are sounded only by wind, or rather, any fast-moving laminar air flow. They are ancient instruments, referenced in Biblical times and found globally. During the Romantic era, they experienced a resurgence and were thought to act as a metaphor for the human nervous system. Often made of wood or metal, they produce only harmonic overtones via oscillation of the strings in fractions, depending on speed of wind. The fundamental is never sounded. On windy days, powerlines can function as incidental Aeolian harps.
The Santa Ana winds arrive seasonally in Southern California, driven by hot desert air moving down from the Mojave into low-pressure areas near the ocean. They pick up speed and heat as they whip through canyons, exacerbating already extremely dry conditions, sometimes creating their own weather systems entirely. They wreak havoc over drought-ridden chaparral, overgrown due to poor land management and risky housing developments. Joan Didion writes of them: “The violence and unpredictability of the Santa Ana affect the entire quality of life in Los Angeles, accentuate its impermanence, its unreliability.” Raymond Chandler focused on the tangible static in the air and the itching hands of meek housewives “feeling the edge of the carving knife, studying their husbands’ necks.” The Santa Ana winds are infamous for this feeling of impending chaos; they’re also known for their associations with massive wildfires.
When the winds pick up, you can hear power lines howl in alarm. These same power lines—managed by the SoCal Edison Company—are often the spark that ignites the fire. Recently SCE declared bankruptcy, faced with multiple massive lawsuits for their negligence in maintaining the lines, which frequently snap in the winds and have thus caused some of California’s most devastating fires in recent years. Three of these fires—the Bobcat Fire, Woolsey Fire, and Silverado Fire—are reflected in this work, with each appliance switch representing number of days burned and number of acres burned. SCE’s strategy to avoid further liability, as of late, has been to simply shut off power to entire areas facing red flag wind alerts.
excerpt from forthcoming essay ‘Wildland Urban Audio Interface‘