Photo © G. Stefani

INFRASOUND-TIDAL
JOHN DUNCAN
Audio sources by Densil Cabrera

CD Allquestions 41:32

The sound sources of Duncan's new work is a series of infrasound recorded by Australian researcher Densil Cabrera, taken from tides, atmospheric pressure, seismic movements. The album is quite spacial, revealing its splendor only after assiduous listening (headphones recommended). Perplexing at first is the contrast between the beginning/end, fruit of a rich sonoric dynamism, and a central zone that seems static: a staticness amplified by the strong contrast with the sounds that frame it. The piece starts with ten minutes of variations around a central sound that expands into diverse harmonics; the sound is faceted, the bass creates unusual acoustic effects of echoic resonance. It finishes with a meandering drone that recalls Duncan's most recent work. It's really the central section however, so static, that costitutes the hinge of this composition: the person who listens and allows it to absorb, discovers tiny unexpected audio events. Duncan's intention is to suggest the atmosphere of scientific research: the isolation, the long flow of eventless moments before arriving at a relevant discovery. It's actually this sonic fabric at the limits of monotony, mirroring the accumulation of days without results, that add weight and importance to each successive listening. INFRASOUND-TIDAL is a voyage approaching timelessness. (7)

Daniela Cascella, Blow Up July 2003


By now, talking about Duncan's music is like trying to describe a natural phenomenon; this is particularly true in "Infrasound-Tidal", where John uses Australian Densil Cabrera's sources of sound as basic material, according to principles better explained in the liner notes of this release. Divided into four basic movements, you first listen to the "sound files" of compressed tidal recordings, then to the ones reproducing earth moving and rumbling, finally to a sonic transposition of barometric pressure. The "Tidal" section is fantastic: an Eliane Radigue-like changing drone hovering around your ears and gently caressing the nerves, almost until a semi-conscious level is reached. Several soft pops and a subterranean explosion characterize the beginning of "Seismic" - and what I find peculiar here is the fact that the sound of the earth is represented with a continuous washing hiss that I'd tend to associate to the sea, instead. The hypnotic quality of sound finds its perfect definition in the final minutes, where the "Barometric" manifestation grows out of nowhere and pumps low frequencies through your feet, up to your stomach and lungs, to be finally comprehended - in a way - from your head. This is musical science at its deepest depth, confirming John Duncan's place among the electroacoustic elite; we can't help but looking forward to what the man will have to capture, transform and show all of us in the future.

Massimo Ricci, Touching Extremes July 2003


Though his prolific career is dotted with dozens of exceptional collaborations, John Duncan found himself in uncharted territory when constructing INFRASOUND-TIDAL from sources supplied by the Australian sound artist Densil Cabrera. The process of testing the self has been a central theme in Duncan's earlier works. Typically, he manifested it by pitting equally strong forces against each other within a crucible of intense psychological, aesthetic and/or conceptual pressures. In SCARE, he set up a confrontation of sexual and violence taboos by firing blanks at unsuspecting participants; in HOME: UNSPEAKABLE he pushed his collaborator Bernhard Günter's already quiet aesthetics into a black hole of gaping silences. Here, however, as Duncan states in his sleevenotes, Cabrera "appeared not to be interested in knowing anything at all about who I was". Rather, Cabrera was more interested in articulating and amplifying tidal, seismic and barometric data into a rudimentary collection of sounds. Duncan interpreted his scientific approach to sound as a removal of the self, and used that as an allegorical frame to determine how he should compose the work. On INFRASOUND-TIDAL, then, Duncan adopts a cold, detached demeanour.
The Album's opening sustained tones subtly expand into interlacing fragments of purified sound. These drones flicker softly like controlled feedback or sinewave modulations, but they are more compelling than the contemporary no-input mixing work of Toshimaru Nakamura, say. It may be difficult to discern what these drones have in common with the source material, but Duncan's goal is to aptly parallel the rigours and monotony of scientific research in a data form which requires concentrated listening to percieve its minutiae. In the process, he implodes perceptions of time. The arbitrary 12 minute timeframe of his opening section could just as well have lasted 12 seconds or 1200 years.
Thick grey drones and distant white noise mimic the scientific process as an isolated practice, occasionally punctuated by scribbles of indeterminate activity that might relate to some wondrous discovery. INFRASOUND-TIDAL is a compelling if hermitic work that reflects on science's psychological impulses both as an aesthetic and as an agenda.

Jim Haynes, The Wire July 2003



The music on this album is all derived from scientific geological and meteorological data. In 1998, Densil Cabrera offered a set of tidal measurements he had transcribed into sound for sound artists to work with. John Duncan stepped up to the challenge. This first set (allegedly covering nearly 300 years of recorded tidal activity at 60 locations around Australia) was soon joined by a seismic set and a barometric set. Cabrera’s sound sources follow meticulous rules of time compression, they are scientific audio representations of scientific data. Duncan used them as raw material to create a single 42-minute piece divided into four movements: tidal, seismic, seismic and barometric. The first section takes the form of an electronic drone, the oscillating sine waves mimicking the ebb and flow of the waters. The two “seismic” sections consist of tiny water drop-like sounds backed by loud hiss. The last section is the most fascinating one: the barometric data has been shaped into slowly rising and falling tones. Cabrera’s liner notes explain in details his part of the project. On the other hand, Duncan -- who is responsible for the creative part and had the final say -- remains vague as to what he actually did to the source material. So INFRASOUND-TIDAL remains draped in a shroud of mystery that enhances his captivating appeal.

François Couture, All Music Guide June 2003



john duncan (for absurd amateurs stands as one of absurd's greatest influences) striked back with another diamond. "infrasound - tidal" is actually the result of the collaboration between john duncan & densil cabrera. Sometime in late 90's mr. cabrera in a chat said about recordings of tidal that he had, john answered immediately as he was interested in the sound result of such a recording and throughout data exchange finally materialized this cd, where as usual to john's releases we get 4 pieces clocking for one long, lasting for some 42 min or so. a cd to bring in mind various releases of john, as it has the smell of his most classic moments. starts with tidal, a kinda buzzing drone that moves and evolves slowly, making you curious and anxious to see where it'll end or go, I must admit that I found myself trying to guess what will happen afterwards, (of course how silly I was), suddenly "tidal", which is actually that opening track turns to seismic a piece divided in 2 parts, two parts that are of a complete different nature, giving at time the feeling of field recordings listening in the background and various microsounds coming in and out throughout the whole of it, at times sounding elementary at times majestic, is a "part" of the piece that lasts longer to the other ones, and suddenly "barometric" strikes in, not as a blast but in a way that while listening to it you have the feeling that both "tidal" & "barometric" can also work as the prologue & epilogue to the seismic piece, anyway, that final part brings in mind john's most obscure ambient moments, an obscure background and that lovely frequency like ambience in the front that makes it a joyous part of the cd. it may not be the thrilling atmosphere of the recent amazing "phantom broadcast" here but is another dimension of his work, a more "classic" allow me to say part of it created though in the way only john knows how to create making it a fine addition to his ever beloved discography. i believe that for the duncan amateur this can work as a great introduction to his unique universe, keeping in mind that some of his most "classic" works are at the moment hard to find.

Nicolas Maletitsis, Absurd July 2003


John Duncan, an American who has lived in Italy in recent years, has worked in a myriad of media including performances, installations, hijacked TV broadcasts, Japanese pornographic films, and music. Regardless of the form each work takes, the intent is the same to create a learning experience. On these two recent releases he abandons his preferred audio material short-wave radio static but remains true to that motivating impulse. INFRASOUND-TIDAL is the outcome of an exchange Duncan initiated with Australian acoustics researcher Densil Cabrera. Cabrera audio representations of tidal, barometric, and seismic data became Duncan's raw material, but the American's objective was to figure out why Cabrera would go to the trouble of doing this in the first place. Duncan's efforts to establish a non-technological dialogue with Cabrera went nowhere. So instead of a personal portrayal, the music became a representation of scientific inquiry. Duncan fashioned a series of long, wavering drones and thick grey hisses, then speckled them with tiny scrapes and pops. These unemphatic micro-events evoke the multitude of discreet experiments and investigations that go into the advancement of scientific knowledge.

William Meyer, Signal To Noise no. 33, Spring 2004