Dark Speech is a highly unusual recording for Dragon’s Eye ~ the opening minutes sound like the antithesis of the label’s typical release. With a nearly-industrial rush of sound, Geneva Skeen introduces herself to the masses. Only later will she relent. Vast sheets of rain drench the sonic field, while ominous bells toll in the background. What is this recording, anyway?
The liner notes explain the seeming incongruence. Skeen’s music lies at the intersection between natural and digital sound, and her sonic explorations amplify the thin line between sound and human discernment. Her recording locations form a wondrous tapestry: a Finnish forest, a Galapagos volcano, a drought-ridden desert and a San Andreas downpour. In each location, the artist zeroes in on the inherent beauty and seeks to transcribe it through sounds of her own. In “erebus” (the Greek personification of darkness), this will mean high-pitched twinkles like winter snow: the sound one imagines one might hear in the heart of a Finnish winter, but is more likely to hear in its depictions. The associations are hard to escape, but Skeen succeeds here by avoiding the obvious; the tone of the piece is dark ambient, and the finale avoids a peaceful conclusion.
This makes the preview piece, “ambivalence”, all the more surprising, as it folds in Skeen’s lyric-free voice, eventually joined by church bells. The most accessible of the tracks, this otherworldly piece provides an expression of sweetness that is less apparent in the more foreboding whole. It’s as if the artist surrenders momentarily to the beauty of her surroundings, forgetting their inherent danger. When her voice returns on “death in a valley of fading stars”, it does so with a touch of intimidation. Pitched down in the fifth minute, it sounds like a warning: ignore these threats at your own peril. The industrial influence resurfaces with mechanical clashes and clanks. The world is neither malignant nor benign, yet it produces a dark speech that tells of wonders without words. (Richard Allen)
Release date: 23 September