UC Berkeley (Nick)



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    The Archaeologist Presents

    Nick Sowers
    May 3, '10 4:54 PM EST

    I am standing at the edge of a precipice. From below the dense jungle of new growth rainforest sweeps away toward the horizon, where the island of Guam ends and the ocean begins. The rainforest is consuming the remains of Andersen Air Force Base, once part of a global network of United States military bases. It’s been fifteen years since the last C-130 Hercules lifted off the tarmac in a scene reminiscent of the last chopper lifting off the roof of the US Embassy in fallen Saigon.

    [Fig 1: The US Embassy evacuation and collapse of South Vietnam.]

    The military was ultimately driven off of Guam by the indepentistas and environmental activists, who protested the military’s parabolic increase in production of noise, detrimental to the health of the base’s neighbors and endangering the wildlife habitat forming on the edge of the base.

    I can see that same runway a kilometer in the distance, reflecting the subtropical sun through patches of forest. Behind me and down the sloping grassland lies the Guahan community of Yigo, nestled in the limestone forest and looking the same as it did forty years ago, when the ridge I am standing on didn’t even exist. This is a man-made ridge that I have climbed, a hollow jet noise barrier that the military built to buffer the air force base from the community without.

    image [Fig 2: Looking west from Echo Red Ridge. Photo by author.]

    This artificial ridge straddles two worlds: the wild interior of the former military base and the more subdued exterior, fiercely retaining its identity throughout the military occupation. The former bases are mostly under control of the National Park Service, though much of it is still off limits. The land was transferred in sync with the military pullout and unceremoniously named Base Edge National Park. From one colossal bureaucracy to the next.

    My archaeological undertaking, however, is neither the interior of the base nor its exterior, but the edge. The former jet noise barrier has a fascinating history. My findings are increasingly showing it to be just a grandiose work of camouflage. It is arguable that it even worked in the first place. It never blocked enough noise to keep the community at bay and ironically supported the wildlife habitat that eventually led to the military’s eviction.

    image [Fig 3: Apparatus for examining sound and entropy. Photo courtesy of Berkeley student Alexandria Lee.]

    image [Fig. 4: Model of ruins of the jet noise barrier. Photo by author.]

    [Fig. 8: Park map.]

    Before sending the group on their hike, I handed out park maps, to ensure they could find their way across the treacherous terrain of a former military base.

    For the presentation I also installed a 3.6 meter-long bass cannon to render the walls of the elevator lobby immaterial. I let loose jet sound rippling on 23 Hz waves.

    image[Fig. 9: It was a monument to jet sound. It was a ruin of jet sound. Photo by author.]

    I could tell that the air of the room was markedly different upon the introduction of this instrument . The frequencies from the cannon are so low that you can feel its effect on independent parts of your body. Perhaps the Berkeley group was expecting to examine a set of models, or an array of drawings. Instead of these conventional representations, I brought them inside of the space I’ve been working in over the past four months. There was no architecture to speak of beyond effect, nothing firm to hold on to.

    image [Fig. 10: Apparatus for observing sound and entropy. Photo by author]

    image [Fig. 11: Model of ruins of jet noise barrier, developing over time. Photo courtesy of Berkeley student Alexandria Lee.]

    All did not go fully as planned. Aside from the usual technical difficulties (slides out-of-focus etc.), it was a challenge to communicate the depth of my research efforts. I think overall the group was confused by the neutrality with which I presented the project. I can attribute the neutrality to being under the wing of the National Park Service, whose best interest lies in welcoming the broadest range of visitors, be they military retirees or Green Peace activists. To further the neutrality, I have a tendency to get carried away by my excitement in the properties of sound—the awesomeness of jet sound—and present it as a phenomenon devoid of its political dimension.

    I also have a tendency, like most military tourists, to romanticize the ruin, to admire the colossal machine regardless of its ethical history, and to stare wide-eyed at the beauty of entropy. I think the value of this study was to be self-aware of these tendencies, and to find a way to be self-critical.

    We have here on Guam a social debt, a residue of an unjust landscape, a monument to inequality. This jet noise barrier is still charged with the power transfer from a military agency to the civilian agency of the Park Service. Is the space in some way still militarized? What does this mean for the future of post-military space? What lessons can we learn from this structure which can apply to currently occupied bases, to the production of current military space?


    • so will you be posting the other disciplinary presentations (from the future conference) here on the blog?

      Also i assume you intentionally dressed like a park ranger?

      May 3, 10 6:14 pm  · 

      My colleagues will be adding their reports to the blog, yes.

      And this is what I wear when I work in the field... but as I respect the park rangers here, who wrestle alligators on the weekends, I'll take that as a complement!

      May 3, 10 6:26 pm  · 

      Thanks for the welcome Nick, I've just began to read about your travels and look forward to learning more about your time abroad.

      I spent one year living in an apartment underneath the landing strip for Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach, VA. The noise did indeed severely impact my perception of the surrounding area. Jet noise has a way of expanding public zones into private ones, an ever-present sensual intrusion. Best of luck to you in continuing your research, which is indeed a pressing issue that demands critical analysis.

      May 3, 10 9:20 pm  · 

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