Drones and Debris ~ Song (After Nature Past) / Song (After Nature Future)

Seldom has so much work gone into something so short, but here the execution earns the attention.  Beginning with a bed of seal calls recorded by Chris Watson at Holy Island, Gyða Valtýsdóttir translated the calls into cello phrases and passed the project to Paul Rooney, who created a composition.  The results were installed in Lindisfarne Castle, paired with a “found poem” text including words from Beyoncé, Lana Del Rey, Homer ( ! ) and more, all mixed into a Jabberwocky jumble warning of climate change.  Sometimes the words are elegant (“Spooked at the laments of the distant beasts / you tried to master them, and your own internal nature. / But you could never feel at home.”), other times winking (“Nature speaks through these drones and debris, / In this future, drones and debris are all that’s left. /  We have one mournful call that says all of this, / but this translation does not do it justice.”).  And now there is a remix, released on 12″ aside the stereo mix to coincide with the extension of the installation.

Remarkably, everything works, and the two pieces have a high replay value (important for an installation).  Of course, one needs to like seal cries.  It’s incredible just how much Valtýsdóttir’s cello sounds like a seal: a lonely, forlorn, deep-throated animal in the early notes of “Song (After Nature Past)”.  One images the large creature lounging on a rock, lamenting a lack of mates and fish.  The high-pitched notes are like baby seals seeking their mother’s attention, or like cruising gulls; the layered notes are like the rolling of the sea.

The tone of “Song (After Nature Future)” is more musical than reflective and nearly orchestral in nature, as if describing the impact that sight can have on sound.  Midway through the piece, sheets of sound overtake the seals like waves, although the seals are safe; they have simply dived beneath the surface.  When they return, they seem plaintive, begging for calm waves, a break in the clouds, a warm boulder.  The end result: a feeling of sonic bonding.  We have translated the seals’ cries into a third language; now what will happen when we play these notes back to them?  (Richard Allen)

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