Incoming transmission. Pinged location: The North Sea.
On Kystwerk, French photographer, musician, and lifeguard Roméo Poirier – described as an ‘aqua aficionado’ – teams up with Norwegian poet Lars Haga Raavand. Kystwerk swims in gloomy depths before breaching upon a stark coastline.
Poirier’s ambient is clearer than this stretch of grey-cobalt, clearer than it ever could be, bubbling and frothing around poetic sentences. The poetry, spoken in Norwegian, is more like the North Sea, matching its moody coloring and conjuring occasional storms in its syllabic swells and sudden pauses.
It took four years to shape this well-rounded record. Throughout its lifetime, it surprises and fascinates in equal measure, shining a light on a mysterious underwater cosmos. Detailed tones sparkle and fizz, and they sometimes scream out with a sharp, acidic note, which is the ambient equivalent of a jump-scare. A long and slippery creature slinks at speed into your vision, coming from a crevasse or a slit in the bedrock. Poirier is in no better position to understand the murky depths and the sudden, sweeping currents, and there’s a tidal rhythm to the poetry, too.
Raavand’s poetry is graceful and rhythmical, replacing spacious, aquatic depths with the presence of an outsider. As shimmering tones drop out of a cavernous space, Raavand’s poetry fills in the gaps. The tones make way for the voice, perhaps curious as to who or what this is. This underwater, alien world is alive with wonder, but it can be a hostile place of predator versus prey. The music leans into this sonic intruder, never a part of their world, but nevertheless occupying the same space for moments at a time. Another creature slips into sight, this time with pulsating phosphorescent lights on display, lifting the tones upwards, with elegance, like a cluster of jellyfish caught in mid-swim. Other tones elongate, stretching out into the dark with sleek tentacles.
When reciting poetry or spoken word, enunciation and delivery are just as important as word choice. While the water sloshes around and cleanses the voice, other pulses – a prototype form of sonar or some other deep-sea equipment – rise to the fore. Ambient lifeforms share the sea with staccato monologues, and the Norwegian language offers up unique rhythms and repetitions. The short and sharp utterances never come across as harsh.
Music is the language, and language makes the music.
The music of language and speech is as powerful as its meaning, interrupted and broken with periods. Rolling off the tongue, Raavand’s words echo a mystery, each syllable drenched in a bleak and cold tone worthy of the North Sea. Ranging from normal conversational volume to a final, fading whisper, the voice is a looping and a lulling, an ebbing away and a finding of temporary rhythm. The sea will claim this, too.
Kystwerk‘s vinyl pressing features artwork by Irene P Tello & Richard Greenan, and a book of poetry by Lars Haga Raavand. (James Catchpole)