Those who spend a lot of time in intensive care units (as visitors, patients or staff), grow accustomed not only to their sounds, but to their feel. Sonically, an intense maelstrom of beeps and buzzes, collapses and cries threatens to overwhelm. Emotionally, the unit is filled with fear, punctuated by occasional relief. Most people recover enough to move to an upstairs room, but some of them die, producing a rush of tones, a cacophony of tears and yells, and finally the most terrifying sound of all: silence. While every patient yearns for this sound, they seldom do so in this way.
Last year, Ondrej Zajac almost died in the ICU. This tape purports to “tell the story of the pre-surgery pain, of the post-anesthetic haziness and of the dull and lengthy recovery.” It certainly sounds like the first two of these. The artist captures the angst, anger and fear of the experience by amplifying the tones of an ICU to the level one hears in the head (in real life, ICUs are seldom this loud). But by “Limbo Mansion”, one hears the sounds of surgery, from the opening door to the surgical instruments, pierced by tiny segments of nothingness. The artist’s post-surgery reliving has resulted in a sonic set that must have seemed more therapeutic than the filling out of the requisite “How Did We Do?” form.
In all fairness to the artist, no listener really wants a tape to be “dull and lengthy”, and ICU is neither. At a compact 23 minutes, it tells its tale and gets out ~ the temporal opposite of the experience. It does, however, leave a lasting mark, like a scar. These distorted blasts hide the fact that much of the noise is meant to heal. Ironically, the process of recording these very noises became part of Zajac’s emotional recovery. To hear the sudden guitar in “Caramel” is to encounter the artist’s “home mood” for the very first time: the patient behind the operation, the musician behind the tape: if not fully himself again, then at least partially so.
Not that the process is linear. The beeping and vacuuming of the ensuing track seem to indicate a setback. Recovery is never a straight line. Once one leaves the ICU, one never wishes to return, even if the stay has made one better. Zacaj captures the tangle of emotions like a cluster of cells and attacks them with his own sonic blasts, hoping the symptoms will never recur. (Richard Allen)