It’s 4 p.m. on a Monday in early February. Glenn Weyant is walking slowly around the University of Arizona fine arts plaza.
He listens intently as car horns blare, stuttering jack hammers break furiously through concrete, and students shout to friends across the plaza.
Many would consider it all noise.
To Weyant, it’s music.
“Wherever I listen, there’s an orchestra,” says Weyant, an artist, stay-at-home dad and musician who started recording sounds for his Sonorous Desert City Project in July.
With a high-powered mic and earphones, he wanders the Old Pueblo and captures the sounds of the city. Those sounds will be, in essence, the instruments for a composition that will take listeners on a sonorous tour through Tucson.
On a recent Thursday morning, a reporter and two photographers follow him on a “sound walk” around downtown. His first stop is one of his favorites for listening: the waiting room of the Amtrak train station.
When he steps inside and shuts the door, the street sounds fade. Weyant stops and stills. He listens to the snoring of a man asleep on a bench, the squeak of an opening door, the muffled music from the nearby Maynards restaurant, and an approaching train.
He steps outside, faces the tracks and stands at attention. The man’s snores are replaced by louder music and a couple of men talking at a table. The train gets closer and louder. When it thunders by, it is a roar you can feel as well as hear. All other sounds fade away.
Then the train is gone, and other sounds return. A bird chirps. The men continue to talk. Construction sounds from a nearby building going up start to trickle in. The music from Maynards becomes the dominant sound.
Listening, it’s easy to imagine the city, a mix of the old and the new. One busy with cars and new construction, but open enough to let in the sound of birds.
“Tucson sounds great,” says Weyant, who grew up in heavily populated New Jersey and has called Tucson home for about 18 years.
“I love Tucson. I don’t know if people appreciate it as much as they could. It’s really gorgeous.”
Weyant is not only a composer, he’s an archivist, recording and preserving Tucson’s sounds.
“The sounds we have in our environment are a reflection of who we are,” he says.
“I would love to hear recordings from 100 years ago. Maybe 30 years from now, someone can listen to these and hear what Tucson once sounded like. … It’s really about preserving who we are as a culture.”
And making music, too.
“Everyone has different tastes,” Weyant, 50, says.
“I’ve always been drawn to music that throws out traditional ideas of music in favor of more daring sounds. When I walk by the (North Fourth Avenue) underpass, hear the water at the fountain, trains, cars, I begin composing. I like that chance element in it. It’s the evolution of listening to the sounds of the world, and untraditional music.”
For the Sonorous project,funded with a $2,500 grant from the Tucson Pima Arts Council, Weyant settled on recording the sounds in three areas of Tucson: downtown, the UA campus and Reid Park.
“I was trying to think of areas that have a lot of sonic change,” he says.
“I knew downtown was going through big changes with development and the street car. I wanted to do Reid Park because it’s a big public space with a zoo, golf course and an air-traffic component. And the UA campus is a beautiful location for listening. Many buildings there create echo effects, and there are underground courtyards. The three areas make up a nice section of the city.”
In addition to capturing the sounds, Weyant makes photographic collages of every place he records for the Sonorous project, and creates a map.
Next month, Weyant expects to release the limited edition CD, “The Sonorous Desert City Project: Suite I-III,” which will be distributed free. There will also be a digital download component. This summer, he plans to lead sound walks through each of the areas he recorded, in effect recreating each suite of the composition.
In the end, he hopes, there will be more interest in listening.
“When we listen, we get outside ourselves,” he says.
“It allows us to experience what’s around us. It allows us to become a little bit more connected. … It’s hard to do, and it’s also simple, relaxing and inexpensive. And it makes the world a more harmonious place.”