a veil, the sea is Alexandra Spence‘s second sea-themed release of the summer, arriving on the heels of Blue waves, Green waves on Room40. Her Mappa album retains the drone-like fascinations of the prior work while increasing the amount of field recordings. From the start, one hears the gurgling of currents, the ebb and flow of tides, the crashing of waves. Spence then adds her own music, similarly fluid, a seamless integration. Submerged tapes, ceramic pipes and blown bottles foreshadow what is to come.
When Spence speaks, her voice is so light that it bobs on the sea. An old, recurring dream: I’m floating in a big, big wave. The artist is in love with the ocean; it nourishes her, sustains her. The first half of “a veil” is awash in wonder, although the juxtaposition of waves and motors leads one to pause. And then the message, delivered in a litany of objects reminiscent of Last Days’ “thoughts of alice” ~ the Great Barrier Reef, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch … water bottles, humpback whales. Spence makes no distinction between natural and unnatural, original presence and awful disturbance. The reading produces a cumulative effect akin to that of oceanic desecration. She writes of new species born of the old, changing their color and composition due to noise pollution and climate change. Her words may be gentle; their implication is not.
In “the sea,” the listener begins to feel the difference humankind has made in the oceans. There are few “pure” hydroponic recordings anymore. As above-ground field recordings are disturbed by planes, underwater field recordings are disturbed by motors. Even those who want to hear the sea cannot hear only the sea. This deliberate discomfort rests on the outskirts of the sonic field, growing more insistent when combined with the utterances of large sea mammals.
Amid the thrums and hulls lie buzzes and hums; has the sea developed its own tinnitus? Spence’s final notes are an elegy for all that has been lost: a mournful goodbye to species we have known, and many we never had the chance to meet. (Richard Allen)