And the first drums of Inuksuit sounded more like guns than thunder or a call to community. Explosive and sudden, they erupted from every corner of the meadow and struck open the afternoon air. Soon they tangled with sirens, many sirens, at first buried behind the quieter rice rain drums, conch shells, birds, and the tap of snares but soon sirens grew louder and inched up over layers upon layers of drums and clashing cymbals.
The sound of danger. I found myself hoping that things might cheer up a bit soon.
Thirty years ago fellow artist Brendt Berger and I used sirens to create a sound piece that provided the soundtrack for a street theatre piece I designed to wake observers to the dangers of the stockpiling of nuclear weapons. That soundpiece was somber and extraordinarily disturbing -- the sound of the end with no beginning to follow. Our little troupe of artists suited up in disposable white coveralls with cadmium red Xs painted on the back and then moved through the streets of NYC, faces painted white, hands clutching over-sized boom boxes loaded with cassettes of the siren soundpiece. We collapsed in intersections, stopped traffic, and the sirens played on. No respite. We were acting against what we saw as a clear and present danger, but offered little hope. No solution.
Inuksuit, on the other hand, begins with sirens (and airplanes and distant train whistles) but then ends on a hopeful note, allowing its listeners to trust that we humans are more capable of love than hate, that we can make right what is now wrong. Inuksuit may mean 'to act in the capacity of a human, but we humans are a peculiar lot. We don't always do the right thing, but we can, if we choose. We don't have to watch the world melt; we don't have to wage war. We can choose how to act.
By the end of the performance, every pore of my skin was hearing every whisper of the world around me. I could hear trees breathe, insect wings, the patient rustle of birds moving from branch to branch. As the last silver note sounded, crows high above in the redwood trees cawed loudly, and then the bell in the clock tower sounded the hour. With the staccato drum and sirens, Inuksuit warns, but with the delicate ringing of bells and pinging of triangles, also provides the grace of new beginnings, and for that I am extraordinarily grateful.