A Utah artist imagines the life of the Great Salt Lake from birth to the brink
“A distress call” from Great Salt lake.
That’s how local artist Vincent Mattina describes his latest sound collage, called “41.115791 -112.476830” — the latitude and longitude of the lake.
The collage of the life of the lake begins quietly with woodblock rhythms. Other sounds are introduced as the lake forms and then reduces in size by natural disruptions. A loud cacophony represents harm from human impact. Then, a final boom and a return to the woodblock rhythms signify the lake’s collapse.
For Mattina, it was a sad and solemn process to chronicle the lake from its infancy to its current state. The audio reflects that grief.
“It was kind of my gut reaction when I first heard that it's been shrinking for quite some time,” he told KUER’s Pamela McCall. “I hadn't realized how much it affects our ecosystem here. So it's not a happy soundtrack. But it's something that I kind of feel deeply about and it really affected me.”
Mattina’s work won the first place award in sound as part of the 2022 Alfred Lambourne Arts Program. The annual exhibition of artwork is hosted by Friends of Great Salt Lake and is now showing through the end of October at the gallery in the Sorenson Unity Center in Salt Lake City.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Pamela McCall: You describe this in the exhibit program as a time-lapse soundtrack, starting with the birth of the lake. What do you imagine the lake was like when it was born?
Vincent Mattina: Oh, I imagine it was probably beautiful. I think I looked at projections of how big it was at the time it first formed. My current house – and probably most people's houses – would have been underwater at that time. The shoreline is up to the mountains, which is something I really enjoy hiking to. I try to imagine what that was like, just kind of overlooking this lakefront property that's actually the Wasatch Mountains. So it's really kind of moving, an incredible feeling.
PM: How do you capture that in sound?
VM: I just try to reflect on it in my head, how that would have seemed, how that would have looked sped up from the time that it formed to the time it actually decreased.
PM: When we actually hear the sound of water for the first time, it’s followed by a boom. What does that represent?
VM: The sound of the water represents water leaking out of the lake. I describe it as a cut – blood seeping from a wound. And with that little boom at the end, there’s also a coyote-like howl in there, kind of a pain cry. So that's what I was trying to achieve with that. A definite ending. After that, it's quiet again, reflecting the beginning of the piece where there was total silence before the lake was formed. So it returns back to nothing again.
PM: After the cacophonous sound, it becomes quiet again, with some final beats akin to the lake's birth. Are we coming full circle? What does that signify?
VM: Yeah, I guess it's a circle of life – or in this case, maybe a circle of non-life. It supported a lot of life, and still does. But if it continues in that course, it will be as it was in the beginning where it doesn't support any life, including us. We'll just have a toxic dust pool that will poison us unless we do something about it. So this is an audio piece that was stark enough to hopefully make people think about that.