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Composing with the Canyon

The last time you visited the Grand Canyon, what did you take away?

Photographs? An appreciation of natural beauty?

Certainly memories.

Composer Erik DeLuca is taking away sound.

As the Park's most recent artist in residence, DeLuca's using the sounds of the Grand Canyon to create music.

What do you hear when you go to the Grand Canyon?

Recent park visitors said, “You could hear the wind rustling.”

“It’s a nice peaceful silence.”

“A gentle breeze and/or silence.”

But to Erik DeLuca, the canyon is by no means quiet.

There’s tympanic thunder and the trickle of Ribbon Falls.

DeLuca is a summer artist-in-residence at the park.

He’s spent weeks recording sounds at Phantom Ranch, one mile deep inside the canyon.

“The sound of the Colorado and also the immediate environment changes in relation to the geology of the canyon," noted DeLuca. "So it’s like you’re walking through this ever-fluctuating concert hall.”

And it is noisy.

His mike captured the squeaks and squawks of an anthill.

DeLuca recorded pieces of the canyon on his sound walks.

“You could hear the Colorado River,” he said. “You can hear the transition of these ecosystems… Once you approach Phantom ranch you start hearing cicadas.  And then once you approach Phantom ranch you hear all these human made sounds, the pump house.”

DeLuca searches for sounds in national parks across the country, from Denali to the Great Sand Dunes.

In each, he looks for unique natural sounds that he translates into music and accompanies with musical instruments.

A raw voice singing an Appalachian ballad created a sonic portrait of Shenandoah National Park.

In Grand Canyon, he wanted use sound to capture the interactions he saw in the park between humans and nature.

On one of his walks, he noticed the sound coming from a suspension bridge over the Colorado.

“It was so amazing,” he said. “It was this kind of ever changing electronic music that had form and different streams of sounds.  There was drone. There was harmony. Picture like a guitar without a fret board that’s kind of stuck in the wind.”

With these found instruments, DeLuca will begin setting the Grand Canyon to music.

In his cabin down at Phantom Ranch, he found an old cigar box guitar. Under the strumming you can faintly make out his recording of the buzz of cicadas.

DeLuca is composing what it’s like to sit on a quiet bank of the Colorado River and listen.

He expects to finish the piece by the end of next summer.

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