Some recordings are meant to be listened to only late at night or with headphones. Such is the case with to orient themselves with coastlines, a subtle collection that contains sub-level hisses, crackles and other tiny endearing features. Blasting it from a convertible? Impossible. One would never catch the radio waves, the transmissions attempting to break through. At times the recording seems to be searching for survivors like a rescue team that has found the spot of a submersion, but no debris. It’s the sound of magnetic currents and the feedback of stars, the empty pockets between what is said and what is meant, the unexpressed words, tumbling into silence. As such, it’s an intensely lonely recording, a record of dropped connections, missed opportunities and shipwrecks, one in which the invisible protagonists, attempting to orient themselves with coastlines, find the geography to be as intimidating as the lack of land.
There’s no indication in the field recordings themselves to indicate that the project was actually birthed on land; the album was recorded “on a windswept hill in Maia”. Those familiar with the TV show “Lost” may think of the scene in which the survivors climb a mountain in an effort to get a signal from an antiquated transponder. But there’s more going on here than simple field recordings; disorienting samples and live musical elements are woven in as well. The birds may sound live, but there’s a good chance they’re not; the rain arrives from a pre-recorded source, and the foghorn is an accordion. This additional layer of detachment – the thought of environmental sounds not being environmental – adds to the sense of dislocation, making the screech at 8:05 of “to check their homeward progress” feel like punishment: the friendliest response one receives is the sound of feedback, the crossing of wires. One wonders if a traveler in space might feel the same way, encountering a friendly voice only to discover it to be an echo of a distended, long-lost radio show.
In the end, the title turns out to be deceiving. Orientation is sought, but none is found; the ground below seems less stable than the air around it. Neither sights nor sounds can be trusted; there’s a void in the center of the universe, and the only certainty it provides is that there is no certainty. The old music may still playing, but without intention. The sounds are rotating without direction, folding endlessly in upon themselves. (Richard Allen)