This album begins with an insult: the 1788 declaration of British colonists that the Australian soundscape was “silent”. This insulting statement inspired the phrase, “The Great Australian Silence”. Even worse, the evil attitude that it exposed led to the mass eradication of indigenous people and landscapes. If something isn’t there, it can’t be slaughtered, or so the colonists told themselves while attempting to remake a continent in their own image. The same story has been repeated from continent to continent, country to country, with history written (or re-written) by conquerors. Yet even though many people believe things just because they’ve always heard them, repetition doesn’t make everything true. The danger to truth is the threat that every dissenting voice will be silenced as well.
As John Cage once famously observed in an anechoic chamber, there is “no such thing as silence”, at least on earth. (In space, according to the famous tagline for Alien, “no one can hear you scream”.) Either the early colonists were deaf in more than a metaphorical sense or they considered what they heard akin to silence: unimportant and thus disposable. On this album, Jay-Dea López attempts to reflect what these colonists might have heard by recording the sounds of a rain forest at night. The 3leaves label did miss a grand opportunity to present the release as a two-disc effort, including a second, blank disc, which would come across as silent in the manner of 4’33”; but perhaps that would have been too much effort for an inside jab.
The Great Silence builds as it progresses, in the same manner that one’s awareness of one’s aural environment builds with time, attention, and one’s own silence (so as not to spook the natives). The 40-minute piece begins with the familiar sounds of crickets and cicadas, soon joined by frogs and fruit bats. But when the thunder begins to roll midway through the recording, unidentified wildlife coos and cries. Were these creatures hidden in the forest the whole time? One suspects that even Lopez might not be able to name every source, and therein lies both the triumph and tragedy of the recording. Other sounds were once here as well: now-extinct flora and fauna, original resonances, Aboriginal languages. The colonists robbed history of its stories and sounds, first labeling them as silence and then creating the silence themselves, fulfilling their own dark prophecy. Lopez’ profound statement returns a fragment of their voice: The Great Australian Silence, silent no more. (Richard Allen)
Release date: April