Black Rock, Nevada, 1860. In the bleached and cracked playas and buttes of what was once Lake Lahontan, the Pauite Indians are under attack from Kit Carson and a buckskin battalion of pale faces. Carson and his troops are armed with 50 caliber round, lead balls that fire with a velocity at the muzzle of 1200 feet per second. The Pauite’s armament is mostly sticks and stones; they are terrified of the white man’s weaponry and the sounds whizzing by their heads. They fear the sound as much as they fear the imminent tearing of flesh.
Vienna, 1887. Logician and physicist Ernst Mach is attempting to isolate the psychoacoustical source and rationale for the psychological terror associated with gunfire. He tries to understand why soldiers engaged in battle with firearms are so emotionally volatile.
Mach endeavors to explain the how of what the Pauites already know: The sound of the air ripped asunder is an immediate reminder of one’s own mortality. At any given millisecond, something as precious as life can be snuffed. Shell shock. Faster than sound. Instantly. A crack and an echo.