Bernie Krause writes in his book about this idea that each individual has their own set of totem sounds. These are sounds that a person is somehow deeply connected to for what might be unexplainable reasons.
Based on my ever growing interest in filed recording and assembling audio compositions from these recordings, my totem sounds are those that I discover or continue to return to with renewed fascination, intrigue and an unexplainable attraction.
I’ve always enjoyed building fires. It doesn’t mater if it’s in a backyard fire bowl for chilling after a cookout, a campfire to use for cooking or a spectacle to enjoy as the sun goes down. In Boy Scouts it was one of the things that I could do really well. A regular challenge was to start a fire with wet wood and a single match using only the dry tinder that you packed in. No liquid fire starting fuel allowed (A rule I abide by to this day). I built up some pretty good skills. Recently, I’ve been able to put these skills to good use again through a series of bonfires and campouts around Iowa. It started in Grinnell, IA during my artist residency at Grin City. Each week they have a potluck. Weather permitting and participants so inclined, this regularly transitions to a bonfire. The first one I was there for, I jumped in to help and was quickly handed fire duty. I really like it. I’ve always loved how it looked but it wasn’t until these Grin City bonfires along with a recent camping adventure with Mrs Formalplay that I realized just how much I also love the sound. There were so many textures, so many clicks and hisses, and a subtle roar that still wasn’t enough to mask the birds in the distance.
It’s that thing were you can’t help but stare into the fire. The colors, the light, the warmth and the sound. It all harkens back to something much older than any of our conscious memories. It connects to a world we are now entirely removed from. The energy. The power. The ability to change – positive and negative (and even positive from a negative like natural forest fires). When thinking of totem sounds, I feel a strong connection to fire from my youth as I developed into an adult, partially from the process of earning the Eagle Scout award. I am also filled with a sense of wonder at all of the things that have and still come from fire.