16: Arlington

The laying of the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is pervaded by a sonorous trumpet. I've heard it a million times in movies, but to pick up the resonance, the subtle variation in the tapering off of each note in the live performance is powerful. I feel directed to observe, obey, and to be humble. Needless to say the trumpet call has a high signal to noise ratio.

The Tomb is an axial memorial, looking out over the Potomac. It induces an axial movement, the epitome of military precision. It functions to obliterate the visual and audible noise of the landscape and hone your attention on its grandeur.

Arlington itself is a militarized landscape, gravestones like white pixels coding a neutral green landscape.

The hills once belonged to Robert E. Lee. It is that note that I think is most interesting. Before this was a cemetery, it was a majestic house and estate. To prevent Lee from returning to the estate, the first graves were dug in Mrs. Lee's rose garden. It became an occupation by cadavers.

I walked among the rows and encountered a solemn sound. Bagpipes for me evoke more than anything the open landscape. It is the sound of air itself. It has just enough noise to allow it to absorb into the atmosphere. The trumpet, on the other hand, demands obedience to its signal. Listen:

15: Rolling Thunder

Rolling Thunder, a motorcycle parade in its 22nd year, roars across the Memorial Bridge to make a circuit of the Mall before terminating at the Vietnam Memorial. Vietnam vets ( Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom vets as well) ride their hawgs to bring attention to POW's and MIA's, and veterans' rights in general.

Curiously though, the noise becomes part of the background. I found a way to tune out the rumbling. The occasional rip of a revving engine breaks out of the background sound profile. Otherwise the sound which seeks a temporary occupation of the space of the Mall just sounds like loud, annoying traffic. The occupation happens physically in the barriers erected by the police to allow Rolling Thunder to pass through.

I am left wondering what the noise is saying. Listen:


14: Gettysburg

Stepping inside the restored Gettysburg Cyclorama is a strange juxtaposition of a 19th century precursor to the cinematic experience with a 21st century lighting and sound spectacle. Looking at the various sections of the battlescene, I am impressed by the painting's extraordinary detail. It is as though you could infinitely zoom into the battle. The illusion is that nothing is hidden from view. The experience is total. This 'total' experience is redoubled by the sound, volleying from all directions. Tactics give way to chaos. I am simultaneously the general and the soldier, in command of the view but completely without control of the scene.


and listen: