Polarity is a different but no less engaging album from William Ryan Fritch, the first of a trilogy addressing the planet’s water crisis. Fritch’s experimental and electronic tendencies come to the fore, eclipsing his orchestral bent (although it remains evident in the composition). The use of hydrophones, solenoids and transducers helped the composer to connect with the frequencies running through the earth, reflecting his experience on the documentary Newtok, about an Alaskan village on the edge of disaster.
A sense of foreboding is present from the opening, as the music begins to rise like the encroaching sea. The first title is itself an indictment: “A World of Promise and Inaction.” Coverage of the climate crisis – despite the imminent danger – takes a back seat to the news of the day, which ironically includes an increasing amount of “natural” disasters. Vigilance slips without awareness. The track ends in a watery gurgle, setting the stage for what is to come.
An insistent vein of percussion begins to thread through the tracks, in one sense a battle cry and in another a warning; it all depends which side one is on. “A Fissure Too Wide” breaks momentarily into static, a possible parable of signals that fail to get through. It’s not surprising that a “Storm” then follows, backed by a hyperactive pair of clocks, a reminder that the Doomsday Clock is 100 seconds from midnight. The huge Hollywood chords are reminiscent of the disaster movies that once seemed silly but now seem uncomfortably prescient (despite their scientific inaccuracies).
“Swarms of Unfamiliar Swelter” is another original title, a reminder that we once called our crisis “global warming,” a term that caused naysayers to scoff during every cold snap. Having no regard for pundits, the planet continued to warm, and the waters continued to rise. Can we still “Stem the Tide,” as Fritch suggests in his closing piece? The answer is a clunky “maybe.” If we act now, we may yet be able to make things better than they could be, but the flood has already begun.
What is Polarity? The possible answers include the electromagnetic properties amplified on this album; the changes taking place at the earth’s poles; and the separation of humans into opposing tribes. The rest of the trilogy will fill in the blanks like the melting glaciers fill the sea. (Richard Allen)