2003 AQ 05 Data recordings: Tidal, Barometric, Seismic.
Composed by John Duncan.
Source recordings provided by Densil Cabrera.
Photographs © Giuliana Stefani.
CD released by Allquestions.
Densil Cabrera and I have yet to meet face-to-face. Our collaboration began in 1998, when Densil posted an offer to an audio chat list, open to anyone curious to hear and possibly work with tidal recordings he’d made. I responded that same day, intrigued to hear how tidal measurements would sound, more than with their value as scientific research. When his CDr arrived, I accepted the audio sources as ‘pure’ sound, and sent him a message offering to work with them as such. Densil agreed, and we kept in contact by email.
While working on this project, listening to the sources, checking Densil’s website, I tried to deduce something about his character, why he’d chosen to record these sounds, why he’d chosen to share them openly with anyone. Aside from a few technical images from his audio research, these recordings were all the evidence there was available to form an impression of who I was working with. They seemed to imply a person as fascinated with the technical processes of making the recordings — designing and building the recording equipment, making the tests, writing the software — as he was in the results. Clearly he was seeking some sort of contact with someone outside of his immediate colleagues and friends, but he appeared not to be interested in knowing anything at all about who I was. It was a conscious decision on my part to accept these limits of his interest, to focus entirely on what the sources had to offer. At the same time, for me this added a human dimension — isolation, separateness, the monotony of repetitive research, impermanence — to the marine, atmospheric and geological basis of the audio sources.
The inherent linearity of the scientific data represented in these sounds has deliberately been destroyed, modified into material — data, if you like — that operates on several levels at once. According to the time scale represented in several of these recordings, it could be said that the entire process involved in producing this work, spanning five years, took a matter of seconds to complete. And in that time, I still know as little as ever about Densil.
— John Duncan 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