Cal Lyall ~ 10,000 Under Currents

10,000 Under Currents is a sonic treatise on noise pollution.  Cal Lyall‘s 38-minute piece is constructed upon a bed of field recordings, but intensely musical, with notes and chords drifting like clumps of kelp. This is one of the first discs on Melbourne’s Hullick Studios, pairing sound and social relevance.

Hydro-acoustics can be naturally disorienting.  Many are familiar with the effect from putting one’s head in the water and listening.  The distance between sounds is diminished; rocks hit together on one side of a lake can be heard on another, while the oceanic crunching of brine shrimp is amplified.  The booming crash of a wave may be muffled, while the roaring motor of a power boat may be heard before the boat can be seen. Lyall collected these recordings in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, and originally presented them in a Tokyo installation.  We suggest headphone listening to imitate the underwater experience.

Layer upon layer of recording is presented, a slowly rising cacophony.  While we doubt there are 10,000 recorded layers, it would be safe to say that there are 10,000 currents of sound, heard and unheard, in any rich hydrophonic environment.    Before minute ten, Lyall has already sorted them out, producing a thick yet lulling gauze.  A high-pitched whistle and a low-end drone can be heard.  As Lyall is also an experimental musician, we suspect timbral manipulation.  But in the eleventh minute, the low end drops out, exposing the high end as (perhaps) the tiny violin legs of crickets.

After this brief lull, loud bursts of white noise begin to erupt.  We recall the migratory paths of whales and the difficulty of hearing whale song across vast barriers of noise pollution.  While Lyall writes of a “distortion of dimensions,” the soft tissue of the brain unable to differentiate distances and sources, the listener begins to make connections between the kingdoms of air and sea.  Most humans dislike the assault of booming bass from a passing car, the intrusion of lawnmowers at sunrise, or dawn to dusk construction.  Why would the underwater realm be any different?

Again, the music acclimates to the intrusion.  By mid-piece, the white noise has been incorporated into the rhythm.  And then the process repeats again: trickle and droplet, flow and stir.  How many times must we adjust?  The difference between sudden and constant sound grows crucial.  A new tone in the twenty-third minute comes across as grating, more difficult to integrate, highlighting the theme.

In the final quarter, Lyall turns more musical, with sonic waves imitating those of the sea.  But in another sense, density drowns out subtlety, a metaphor for what is lost through sonic pollution.  The intimate conclusion highlights the value of the signal beneath the noise.  (Richard Allen)

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