Sisal is a harbor-based field recording that acts on at least three levels: as a reflection of real-life sounds, as a window into the community, and as an early requiem for a changing area. According to Manrico Montero, Sisal was once the primary port of the Yucatan peninsula, but has since grown into a fishing town. These recordings were made among the mangroves, whose numbers are threatened by an increasing human presence.
As a field recording, the 53-minute set is pristine, focusing on the sounds of water, insects, birds and the hulls of boats. It seems as if the town has been deserted, left to claim its own, as in The World Without Us. This creates a sense of privacy, as the listener feels privileged to encounter nature without human interruption. The irony, of course, is that both the listener and the artist are human, and the latter is part of the recorded environment. Still, there are many times in which the belief is suspended; a bird squawks at the beginning of “Litoral Nor-Poniente”, a dog barks, the waves lap at the hull and the forest comes to life. In short, Montero must have left his microphones alone or have been very, very still.
As a window into the community, the set produces a feeling of muted awe; muted, because it’s unclear whether these sounds are appreciated by those who encounter them on a daily basis. It’s easy to go about one’s work and to miss the aural surroundings. Sisal seems a placid location, if not unspoiled then at least non-urban; industry has not silenced the local fauna, and there are still locations in which one may experience the fullness of a downpour without hearing people dash about (“Mangle Negro” or “Black Mangrove”). There’s no doubt that the water will remain, even if the mangroves will not; human intervention may even spark further flooding.
And now to the sad part. A recent quote from Yucatan Living (accompanying the photo on the left) is related directly to Sisal: “For years, the mangroves in Progreso have served as little more than a dumping ground for everything from old bed springs to bags of regular garbage.” These sounds, these beautiful sounds, are endangered. Sure, one day they will be replaced by other sounds – sound itself is not in danger – but a field recording of drainage and trash sounds distinctly unappealing. Montero’s recording is only indirectly political, but it bears a somber message: listen with your heart and mind, not just your ears. (Richard Allen)