Experimedia’s most elaborate release to date is a lavish DVD/LP package based on the Marconian theory that sound grows faint but never dies. Our utterances, our banalities, our music and the music of the spheres tumbles into the universe, wave upon wave, shrinking like Ant-Man to the inaudible, then to the nearly infinitesimal. If we had the ears to hear them, we might perceive the sound of the Big Bang, as well as that of the dinosaurs, and of every word, false or true, that we have ever spoken. Imagine how well we might choose our words if every one of them might be recovered, and what astonishing sounds we might rescue from the cosmos: the cries of extinct creatures, the sound of dried-up lakes, the first rhythmic bashing of stick against rock. Marconi once imagined recovering the speech of Christ. A tangle of sound cascades through the universe, a jumble of television and radio broadcasts that might seem unintelligible or even threatening to an interstellar species. A golden record is one thing; this morass is another.
As Jeffrey Sconce writes, “there will never be a digital ghost.” Marconi’s original transmission was sent from the U.K. and received in Newfoundland. The “ether” that carried the signal soon become fodder for psychic musings, from spiritualism to hauntology. This thread can be traced in the popular practice of recording and amplifying the sounds of seemingly empty rooms; something is still making noise. Joshua Bonnetta‘s piece layers sounds recorded at both transmission and reception point, along with other diverse sources “harvested from the air”, allowing listeners to hear what might not otherwise be intuited: static transmissions and waves of white noise, field recordings and modulated sounds, displaced dialogue and drop cloths of drone. The lines blur between natural and artificial, source and treatment. The physical ocean is below, the digital ocean above.
Bonnetta’s score is elegant enough to stand on its own, but here the music is married to an award-winning half-hour film. Strange Lines and Distances is a split-screen work that juxtaposes Poldhu Cove and Fever Hospital, the two locales involved in Marconi’s early experiment. The cinematography is lovely throughout the work. At times the images match in tone, color or subject. On occasion, they match by shape, as if the product of a synaesthete (pointed leaves and icicles, 2:50; a single feather and a single flower, 4:50). Water moves like tadpoles under ice; a peeling rowboat rests on land. The viewer looks for patterns in the images, echoing the listener’s desire to make sense of static. Sometimes the patterns are intentional, other times coincidental or personally perceived. The many images of clouds reflect Sconce’s idea that we are all “in the cloud”, a view that is comforting or disconcerting, depending on one’s perspective. The appearance of a floating ladder (9:00) calls Jacob’s ladder to mind. Perhaps the loveliest image is that of flocks against a pair of blue skies (10:30), seeming to pour forth like words from a book binder. In its most symmetrical aspects, the film calls to mind Bernard Edmaier’s collection Patterns of the Earth. Yet Strange Lines and Distances is more than simple visual match-up; it’s also audio synchronization, historical investigation and psychic speculation. By engaging multiple senses at once, it encourages an appreciation of things invisible and eternal. As such, it should appeal to the scientific and the spiritual alike, as both disciplines seek to explain the strange. (Richard Allen)
Release date: 25 March