In the coming years, sonologists will continue to be grateful for the work of field recording artists during the pandemic. Guided by curiosity, working for the most part without pay, such artists captured aural time capsules: innumerable hours of raw material in which is encoded vital information about our species and its relationship to the biosphere. On Sounds of Absence, Peter Kiefer, head of Art-Research-Sound at the Mainz Music School, invited artists to submit recordings captured during lockdown, as well as compositions that express their impressions of the period. The result is a potpourri, from empty to packed, immobile to overworked, with an undercurrent of melancholy.
Patrick Hartono‘s opening piece is a bustle of electronics, neither focused nor scattered, but somewhere in-between, a collision of conflicting feelings as well as a (possibly unintentional) reflection of the elevated role of electronic devices during lockdown. Nicola L. Hein‘s “New York On My Mind” is even more agitated, manipulating the sound of fireworks during Black Lives Matter protests, a reminder that other events unfolded during the pandemic in addition to the pandemic. The last two years have not been kind.
Few people populate Danbi Jeung‘s cleverly-titled “Opacity Crowd,” recorded at the Frankfurt Airport, which ends with a bored announcer repeating mask and social distancing regulations. Even this is not as quiet as Lasse-Marc Riek‘s recording of total silence, which comes across as more silent than 4’33”. Those playing the disc can be forgiven for thinking it has ended; for a time being, many things ended, or at least were put on pause. One such practice is captured by Raphael Kariuki, whose walk in Nairobi on Easter morning reveals secret, illegal services. One hopes the local officials never match keyboard and vocal tones, although it would surprise us if Kenyan officials were field recording fans. In similar fashion.
Juan Bermúdez records emptiness, a sibling of silence, packed with resonance that may convey emotional meaning despite its impassive, impersonal nature. Amplified emptiness is what many felt during the pandemic, unable to put a name to the condition. When Wingel Mendoza buries words in sound, the effect is incomprehensibility: voices and ears straining toward each other, unable to close the gap. Stefan g. Fricke stands in front of a philosopher’s grave, adding vocal fragments until they form a poem: something out of nothing, present out of past, intimating that art is often born from suffering, and global trauma may yet produce an outpouring of creativity not seen or heard in ages. One can only hope. (Richard Allen)