The phrase desert drone implies the harshness of humidity, the undulating hum of the elements, the seeming sameness of the soundscape: the visual reflection of the expression drone on and on. In the hands of Cristopher Cichocki, it also implies the presence of surveillance drones, especially when it comes to warfare. The word “drone” once meant an ongoing hum or buzz, a male bee, a mindless worker. The term then became the name of a musical genre: sometimes soothing and other times harsh. Now to some people it suggests that Amazon is delivering a book, and to others that an enemy is near.
In like manner, Desert Drone Cycle may be received as threatening or benign. Many of these sounds began as recordings of wind from the California desert and water from the Salton Sea. These two have more in common than one might understand from the names, as the Salton Sea is a reservoir of death and decay, also addressed by Rafael Anton Irisarri on his 2013 album The Unintentional Sea and by Joshua Bonnetta on 2016’s Lago. Together the three albums form an unusual triptych, as an infertile land becomes fertile in inspiration.
By “amplifying and dilating” this source material, Cichocki is able to tease out a variety of resonances, defying the expectation of homogeneity to produce a nuanced, mysterious soundscape. Immediately apparent is the presence of a tempo, akin to the rotation of rotor blades, offset by crinkles of static, a deep bass undercurrent and high-pitched, nearly inaudible frequencies. Much of Cichocki’s oeuvre centers around the exposure of what is buried, and one draws a parallel between these amplifications and the exposure of injustice. Then the water sounds become apparent: at first a trickling, an echoed fold in the sky, a light fluid expulsion, as if from a generator. Then a deluge. And yet, perched above these sounds is an atmosphere of decay, a suggestion that these are not waters in which one might swim. Late in Part One, a pulse develops, as if the area were artificially alive, some dank monstrosity given awareness by the pollutions of man. Then it all settles down in a field of crackle, the creature sinking back into the bog.
Side B begins in a more machine-like fashion, those harsh buzzes and metallic scrapes pushing their way to the forefront. Industrial sounds lurk throughout, along with a persistent un-oiled sound like a swing, and a cavernous, subterranean midsection. There is little here but desertion and decay. Even when water begins once again to flow, it presages a shocking series of booms unlike anything before: the heavy footsteps of civilization, plunging deep into the once flourishing silt. Something wicked this way comes, and the something is us. Cichocki flips expectations on their heads, and warns the desert and the deep: beware. (Richard Allen)