The biologist Peter Warshall once showed me that you can pluck the needles
of a Saguaro cactus to marvelous effect. Not only are the sounds surprisingly
sweet and resonant, but lovely natural melodies emerge from the stroking
of rows of needles. Peter helpfully pointed out that I shouldn't stroke
in the wrong direction, which would result in severe tire damage.
I sought Peter's advice for finding a "stradaguaro". He suggested
a ten-to-thirteen year old specimen, situated in a place where it might
have had a bit more water than average, since it had been an exceptionally
dry season, and the water is what resonates.
In the middle of the night I went crawling over hills near Phoenix, running
my fingers over needles in the moonlight.
Cactile was recorded on one lovely plant. In the middle of the piece, where
the texture gets denser, I have to admit I am overlaying multiple recordings
of the pluck sequence with a sampler. But the characteristic repeated melody
and texture is the result of nothing more than my fingers sweeping through
the rows of needles as if they were a concert harp. I drew no blood.
Shabda Owens helped me in the studio. I overdubed a track on my Shakuhachi,
and also added some samples at the end that Shabda had made of me playing
an Andean ocarina.
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