On the heels of Lawrence English‘s Viento reissue comes a new work one might consider a companion. ‘Oseni is a benefit album for the Kingdom of Tonga, which was devastated two weeks ago by the eruption of Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai and the subsequent tsunami, followed by a crop-killing fall of ash.
English notes how closely the islands and nations of the Pacific Ocean are tied together, as the eruption’s effects were felt across thousands of miles. His hope is that we might realize just how connected we are, and that this realization might spark a connection of caring as well.
‘Oseni (Ocean) is comprised of recordings of the Pacific Ocean, collaged to produce an impression of flow. These sounds had been collected over a decade and a half of travel, perhaps waiting for this moment. In normal weather times ~ placid skies, occasional precipitation ~ one might receive the album as a pristine treatment of water sounds, a peaceful tribute to the elements. After all, many people in first world countries use processed sounds of waves, streams and rain in order to sleep. But in light of the subject matter, one cannot help but hear the composition differently. The large waves of the opening minutes may attract surfers, but they may also grow larger, too large, and become a source of destruction. One must listen to the recording all the way through to trust that this will not occur within the boundaries of the soundscape. One can imagine the people of Tonga staring at the sea with trepidation: the source of food and recreation, the waves upon which they travel, coiling rather than curving, threatening to strike again. (The post-tsunami scene in Soul Surfer is an excellent representation of such fear.)
The sea may at times seem benevolent and at times malevolent, yet in reality it is impassive. We are at all times in the grip of forces beyond our control ~ “natural disasters” or (perhaps unfairly) “acts of God.” Tsunamis are not the only forces that remind us our our fragility; wildfires have the same effect, as do pandemics. The enemy is not nature, neither is it each other; the enemy is the tendency to be overwhelmed to the point of compassion fatigue. Yes, Tonga is far from many of our readers. But most of our readers ~ because this is true of most people ~ are near water.
Halfway through the recording, the waves subside, giving way to the sounds of lapping and gulls. The water rolls up the shore instead of crashing. A boat’s hull knocks gently in its mooring. This crisis has passed; we are free to wade out, to paddle, to sail. We remember the shores that English has visited, his attraction to the sea, our own desire to bathe in the sights and sounds and textures. Soon the intermediate waves begin to visit, the waves of vacations and strolls. As Pablo Neruda writes, the sea says yes / then no / and no again / and no / says yes. A delicate balance is, for now, restored. (Richard Allen)