Jamie Drouin‘s long, skinny island lies off the northwest coast of Alaska. Called Sarichef, it was infamous long before his arrival (to collect recordings for an installation) on account of its rapidly eroding shoreline, caused by climate change. Returning to these recordings, The Island captures and explores this “fragile”, isolated body as it struggles to survive. Precisely forty minutes long, it becomes a “sonic time capsule”, an absorption of place, possibly for a posterity that will not be able to visit it in any other manner.
Drouin´s arrangement may be heard as a series of acts, as he allows textures to seep into one another, swelling waves underscored by electricity generators, wind seething though burning waste, oil runoff dripping into the coastal water. Most strikingly, the crackling one mistakes for radio static near the end of the piece is in fact degrading permafrost – the sound of the island literally falling apart. Sarichef, experts fear, may eventually have to be abandoned by its inhabitants. In the meantime, Drouin´s preservation recording is cruel ambience.
Wading into the natural element of Belgium’s Mystery Sea imprint (purveyors of refined abstract ambient recordings, always resting cozily in refined abstract cover art), Stultifera Navis by James Wyness addresses an “archetypal liquid state” by manipulating the sounds produced by “Scottish ponds, Iberian geophonies, mountaintop chapels and transmission masts, metal factory, hand bells, metal drinking vessels” and launching them across the brine. The passengers aboard his fantastical ship may be high, dry and blissfully unaware, but a world is passing just under their hull and the shoreline of their destination is approaching – not an untouched distant purity but the homes and tools of a small community left to weather and rust. Why it was abandoned is hidden in the mists of time, but it will now be their new abode.
Wyness’ and Drouin’s respective work addresses possible endings, possible beginnings, fact and fiction. The common thread is the ubiquity of human foolishness.