Breaking the law, breaking the law! Judas Priest has little to do with field recordings, but their 1980 hit comes to mind while listening to dusk——-dawn. In the spring of 2021, a COVID curfew was imposed in Berlin, and Pablo Diserens snuck out at night to record the sounds of a changed world. We love the thought of making beautiful, illicit recordings!
Over the past two years, sonic pollution was reduced to levels not experienced in our lifetimes. And yet, as quiet as the daytime might be, the nighttime was even quieter ~ and thanks to curfew, few experienced it. The evening walk was for many a time to express gratitude for the neighbors tucked gently into their homes, illuminated by lamps and TVs. Pablo became a night owl, eager to hear what else might be going on ~ what Simon & Garfunkel might have called “The Sound of Silence” paired with John Cage’s oft-quoted “there’s no such thing as silence.”
At first we hear wild birds and the sound of Diserens’ footsteps ~ or perhaps we should say “of someone’s footsteps” so the artist doesn’t get arrested! Striding out at dusk, the artist is eager to encounter the evening environment. Pablo stops at the train station, but doesn’t board, instead recording the thinness of what is normally a bustling audio hub. The trains come, the trains go; but where are the passengers? We hear only one distant voice, a brave traveler.
By the tenth minute, the sound has morphed to a tinnitus high coupled with a humming low ~ the byproducts of metal and power. Soon we encounter the soundscape’s most curious sound, which seems like frogs, but is identified as “talking swans.” What are they doing up so late? Perhaps, like Diserens, they are taking advantage of the relative privacy of late-night lockdown. Ultrasonic pings follow, the vocalizations of living creatures whose tone borders on the electronic. By the twentieth minute, crackle and tick take over: a hint of fire, a reminder of time. Dawn is on the horizon.
June’s Berlin nights last seven and a half hours; on this cassette, the night lasts 27 minutes. The compression increases the drama, creating a narrative that builds to snore-like hums in the 23rd minute, followed by the click of bicycle wheels: an early riser. Diserens is still walking, meeting the morning birds. Never again will one be able to capture such tranquil nights (or so we hope, should the pandemic never return). dusk——-dawn may seem solitary, but never sounds lonely. Diserens’ recording is a reminder that even when isolated, we are never sonically alone. (Richard Allen)