While spinning The Blue Beyond, I couldn’t help but hope that Jana Winderen and Manja Ristić might one day meet and become friends, if they haven’t already. The distance from Oslo to Belgrade is approximately 2500km, but the interests of these sound artists align. They share a fascination with underwater sound, turning a keen ear to sounds occurring beneath the surface: brine shrimp, coral reefs, shifting seabeds. But they also share a deep concern for the scourge of noise pollution: sand pumps, motors, industrial dumping.
If humans beings are incensed by the cacophony of construction, lawn work and traffic, why would we suspect sea creatures to be any different? The deep agitation caused by noise pollution affects feeding patterns, breeding and migration. And while humans can at least complain, sea creatures can do nothing but endure. A plane flying overhead may be a minor annoyance to us (and especially to most field recordists), but a constant parade of motorboats over a mating ground leads to fewer children and in some cases, extinction.
In The Blue Beyond, the intrusions are always near, but seldom dominant, like annoying neighbors who at least stay on their side of the fence. Unfortunately, their noise becomes our noise, and in this case, we are the annoying neighbors. Engines can be quieter (think of stealth submarines), if only the manufacturers might find the motivation. On Side B, the biophany decreases every few minutes as the anthropophony increases, in the same way as all conversation ceases when a fire engine races by. But whenever there is no human intrusion, the richness of the sonic tapestry is revealed.
“Du Petit Risoud aux Profondeurs du Lac de Joux” was recorded in the waters and forest of the Swiss Jura, the first of two commissioned pieces by by Audemars Piguet Contemporary. The piece begins in innocence, with lapping waves, cawing birds and underwater crackle (sonically close to the sound of fire). At times, the wind produces a drone; but what do ocean dwellers know of wind? Only a minute in, the first motor arrives, and is noticed. The local citizens react, as does the home listener. On the LP, the sound is as soft as an old refrigerator hum; in real life, it may have been deafening. Scant minutes later, the relatively benign sound of chimes precedes a louder engine, creating a stark contrast. The forest creatures emerge in its wake. Winderen’s composition highlights the pas de deux, the interaction noticed by only one party, the other impassive.
“The Art of Listening: Under Water” was recorded earlier, but appears here on Side A. This piece combines recordings made in the Barents Sea and the Miami Beach area with “Tropical Oceans.” Impressively, the piece was presented in Miami Beach, one of the most commercialized slices of real estate on the planet. (Think spring break, Heat culture, an influx of tourists and Miami beats compilations.) Will the local human beings, known for being anything but subtle, respond to such a warning? They should, as their seemingly carefree mode of life has already been affected. Only one week ago, the local water temperature hit a record 97 degrees (36C), affecting the local coral, algae and sweltering fish. The sea mammals at the center of the composition seem to be crying, although we know we are anthropomorphizing; if they are not boiling in Miami Beach, they are losing their glacial habitats at the North Pole. Even Santa is sweating.
The last sounds on Side B are those of buzzing bees and a passing plane. While the bees take the foreground, the plane has the final word. There will be another plane; but one day, there may be no more bees. (Richard Allen)