This one is a real gem. Anyone who enjoys podcasts and Ted Talks is immediately advised to check out Nicolas Perret & Silvia Ploner‘s Nýey, which began as a radio show and is now adapted for disc. The recording is an elegant departure for the Unfathomless label, unlike anything else in its catalog.
The topic of this film-sampling, scientist-quoting, volcanic soundscape is Surtsey, the island that burst from the sea off the Icelandic coast half a century ago. Scientists are allowed to visit only four days a year, and eagerly await the opportunity to examine its fluctuating ecosystem. Perret and Ploner mix field recordings from the island with others from nearby sources: the islands of Bjarnarey and Elliðaey, and the Eldfell volcano. (Sorry, no Eyjafjallajökull!) The field recordings are the main attraction, but the music of the 1964 film “Surtur fer sunnan” and the words of three generations of scientists provide additional dramatic heft.
“Nobody knew how the island would be formed and how short time it would take,” the opening narrator intones. Anyone who has been near an aquatic lava flow has experienced the excitement of seeing steam rise from the sea as red and blue connect. The Big Island of Hawai’i’, for example, continues to grow each day. Surtsey, on the other hand, is shrinking, no longer active, falling prey to the elements around it. But these gurgling, bubbling field recordings are teeming with life. The natural booming sub-bass is offset by higher-pitched peeps, and even the cries of local birds. The rippling water sings of spawning fish.
It may not be much to look at right now, but Surtsey is home to a number of smaller species, with few natural predators. The scientists’ wonder is palpable as they speak of flora and fauna. Everything happened swifter than expected; the island came into its own, then took a long, sweet nap. As the bubbling of the recording recedes, more wildlife becomes apparent, including multiple avian flocks; by the two-thirds mark, they dominate the sound field. Generations have already made Surtsey their home; generations will follow.
As the recording winds down, scientists speak of the natural breakdown of the island; erosion has already whittled it down by half. The sounds of local birds decrease, when the lapping of the waves is amplified: an effective means of conveying the island’s physical and aural future. Surtsey has become a character to the listener, and we are sad to hear it go. “What happens then?” a scientist asks. The winds begin to howl as nature claims its own. But for a brief, shining moment – an eye blink in geological time – she was able to poke her head above the water, and lay claim to all she saw. (Richard Allen)