AER 2016: Día seis

Día seis: 29/08/16

I must confess that this was somewhat of a rest day that began late and subsequently also finished late. I very much wanted to connect to the internet today and think I probably looked at phone in some kind of vague hope it might have magically found and locked in on a mobile tower signal more than ten times. It was like an itch I couldn’t scratch. Perhaps it was anxiety about work at home, or that one email that I’m desperate to receive but don’t know about yet.

The night sky was brighter than it had been. On the clearest night the stars were a cloud of light across the breadth of the sky, extravagant in their multitudes […] the era of light pollution had come to an end. The increasing brilliance meant the grid was failing, darkness pooling over the earth. I was here for the end of electricity. (Mandel, 2015: 251)

I spent the afternoon rearranging the blue lights in the studio to improve the illumination and situate the control box nearer where I intend to project and position myself later in the week. I notice there is something in the pulling up and burying of cables, hiding them from sight. In a cable-less environment such as Los Gazquez (referring here only to telecommunications cable) the wireless-ness of the Internet is certainly amplified but as I have been told numerous times by industry that less than 2% of the entire worlds telecommunications traffic goes over satellite. I am here accompanied by the 2%.

I have listened several times to the CD Dark Sound by Mikel R. Nieto over the past month and have been intrigued by the purpose of the recordings presented by the album.


Dark Sound

Dark Sound is a CD length single track album of field recordings taken by Mikel R. Nieto mostly in and around the Ecuadorian rainforest within areas associated with the colonisation and domination of contested areas that were found to have oil reserves. The album traces the relationships between a number of different indigenous groups who have resisted becoming associated with Western European and global models of capital, in favour of continuing the heritage and lives they had prior to the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in the late 15th Century.

The single track CD contains a wide number of field recordings from across various situations that the recordist encountered whilst investigating the noise and culture of Ecuadorian oil mining operations and the impact it has had on the biophonic soundscape and ecology of non-native human, native human, and nonhuman populations. The album comes with an accompanying black paged book with black glossy lettering throughout which makes it impossible to read other than in bright sunlight; a statement upon the darkest of dark geological substrates; crude oil, as well as a comment on the practices of obfuscation that have continued in pursuit of capital gain through oil drilling by corporations. This has led to a number of significant historical, political events including the death of Alejandro Lebaka, a Basque man who in the 1980s took it upon himself as a missionary to position himself as “the voice of the voiceless” (Lebaka in Nieto, 2016: 53) but in his attempted defence and support for a number of native groups, specifically the Huaorani (literally meaning those who speak our language”) which is to say, the native people of the Ecuadorian rainforests, was killed by spears from a group of Huaorani referred to as Tagaeri who no longer wished to partake in the violent systems of control forced upon the Huaorani.

The book provides a significant overview to the political history and issues encountered as a result of the colonisation, and pacification of the indigenous people of Ecuador in pursuit for oil whilst also raising a broad ranging investigation into acoustic research and/or phenomena that are a consequence of the oil operations and their effect directly and indirectly on the Ecuadorian ecology.

The album itself, contains a number of ethnographical and environmental field recordings that include weather events, insects, birds, fish and small mammals and security guards, diesel turbines and high security perimeter fencing. The recordings range from acoustic captures to hydrophones to ultrasound and contact microphones in an attempt to reflect the wide range of acoustic, para-acoustic infra and ultrasonic phenomena that are comprised, altered and ruptured in the pursuit of capital.

The book is highly politicised and the recordings only further emphasise the massive transitions from small tribe to mass industrial practice and the absolute refusal for some to be forced to be adapted and co-opted into a military industrial complex and capital based system of goods exchange and parasitic raping of newly discovered lands.

Back to Los Gázquez

The wind is very high today. I hear the whistling through the window in my bedroom and think to record it. I’ve begun to feel quite paranoid that my equipment isn’t working properly, it is creating too much noise/hiss given how sensitive the DPA 4060 microphones are meant to be in particular. I spend some time trouble shooting in my bathroom whilst recording the wind whistle and try various configurations between mixer, recorder, cable, gain, fade and decide I can’t seem to find any difference no matter which thing I remove and even the MKH416 microphone has a similar level of noise… They can’t all be broken (I think)… So I guess everything is just really quiet here and I am trying to learn to be more conservative with my gain staging as I record and just allow the subtlety of the ambient biophonic and geophonic environmental sounds to pass into the circuity of the microphones and not push them too much. I feel it must be a consequence of so much recording in the aggressively loud conditions of data centres.

I play and lose badly at table tennis to both Simon and Solly.

After dinner, I head down into the bottom of the valley, just below the tree line with only a small head torch and my recording equipment for company. I am less than 200 metres away from the house but in that short distance, with the house obscured from view, in the total darkness of the night, I become intensely paranoid that there might be mammals or other species interested in my presence and I find it difficult to sit still. I set up my microphones to record the symphony of creatures in the night. Cicadas, birds, the occasional rustle from the ground ahead. The amplified sound of everything through my headphones only heightens my paranoia and so I lay back and stare into the stars, and their accompaniment of late night haulage flights passing overhead.

On my way back I carry the microphone in my hand and use it to aim for particular strong areas of noise activity, struggling to walk through the fields and up the various inclines back to the house with nothing but the red light working on the headlamp. I am almost blind, and it heightens my aural senses which are further heightened by the technological appendage of the microphone and amplifier.

I make it back to the house and sit in the studio, awash with blue and contemplate what just happened outside before going to bed.


The Art for the Environment International Artist Residency Programme (AER) was launched in 2015 by Professor Lucy Orta, UAL Chair of Art and the Environment. Between August and September 2016, I spent two weeks at the arts-led field research centre Joya: arte + ecología. This is my journal.


Mandel, Emily St. John . (2015) Station Eleven. Picador Pan Macmillan, London, UK.

Nieto, Mikel, R. (2016). Dark Sound. Gruenrekorder. Gruen, Germany