AMN Reviews: Helen Mirra & Ernst Karel – Maps of Parallels 41˚N and 49˚N at a Scale of Ten Seconds to One Degree [shhpuma SHHD13CD]

20392This quasi-documentary land survey in sound is a collaboration between Helen Mirra, a multimedia installation artist frequently given to exploring the theme of human effects on the environment, and Ernst Karel, a sound artist and anthropologist working with sonic ethnography.

The geographical area described in the title is a corridor in North America running east to west and bounded north and south by latitudes 49˚N and 41˚N respectively. The region was once a forest and then was stripped and replanted, its elm trees eventually wiped out by Dutch Elm Disease brought in with imported wood. Over the years, Mirra has depicted the landscape of the area in various ways in art installations; this recording was originally part of a 2002 exhibit at the Whitney Museum.

Like a map representing selected physical features with colors and symbols, the recording represents natural and artificial elements through its orchestration: Guitar for land; bass guitar for deep water; analogue noise generator for winds; silence for rivers; and a film rewind crank for railroads. The hour-long piece is dominated by the near-constant undertow of the simulated wind sounds, with guitar chords in repeated patterns drifting in and out of the mix. A quiet clattering like the sound of steel wheels on a track also comes and goes. The deliberate pace and repetition of sound elements seem to reproduce at scale the slow cyclicality of environmental change through natural and other means.