We last encountered Radio Cegeste with 2012’s to orient themselves with coastlines, a collaboration with Lee Noyes that investigated hidden hisses and sub-level tones. The new work echoes that theme by bringing to light a species previously thought to be extinct. The New Zealand Storm Petrel is mostly nocturnal and pelagic, visiting the shore only to breed; as of this writing, the only known colony is on Barrier Island, and no recordings have yet been made. Working under this restriction, Radio Cegeste (Sally Ann McIntyre) must imply the cry of the bird, rather than demonstrate it, and she rises to the occasion with subtle grace. On this recording, the artist experiments with suggested sound, beginning in abstraction and ending in buried song: a cry across the ocean, connecting the years.
At first, the 20-minute track creaks and rustles, implying absence. Limpid strings slowly make an appearance, as if apologizing for their presence. A wave of radio static rides in like the tide. McIntyre writes that she “wanted to evoke the sounds of the earliest field recordings of birds, before the tape recorder was invented”. The static field suggests magnetism and wax cylinders, the recording choices of a bygone era. As melodies gradually emerge from the ether, one imagines the surprise of discovery, of finding something where nothing was believed to exist. On multiple occasions, the strings subside completely, leaving a trail of electrical discharge. This makes The New Zealand Storm Petrel sound nearly hauntological, an impression of an impression, a memory of a memory. It’s as if in an effort to protect the endangered bird, McIntyre created an extra layer of aural camouflage. The storm petrel continues to fly over the sea, oblivious to our imaginings or even to our presence. Fly, feed, mate … life goes on, until it doesn’t. At least for now, there’s reason to hope. (Richard Allen)