Día cinco: 28/08/16
On Day Sixty-five a helicopter crossed the sky in the far distance, the faintest vibration of sound moving rapidly from north to south, and they stood staring for some time after it passed. (Mandel, 2015: 250-251)
I’ve been reading Station Eleven since getting on the plane at Gatwick and finished it this morning. It is an excellent book that features numerous discussions about life with everything in a time when people literally have nothing (an extremely volatile strand of influenza (Georgian Flu) causes a pandemic that wipes out 99% of the population of the planet leaving the stragglers to come to terms with a life without laws, without infrastructures, without petroleum and without the Internet. It has struck me so strongly on many levels and is really quite fitting for the experience I am attempting to create in Los Gázquez. Whilst the world hasn’t ended and I am being excellently fed, I do enjoy imagining what this next step might be like towards losing everything. Perhaps it would be better to be born into such a world, where you don’t need to know what an alternative form of human existence might be like. My constant falling back on the comforts on offer and my constantly grappling with should I or shouldn’t I access the Internet are hourly concerns.
Emily St John Mandel, the author, refers regularly to situations where characters in the post-pandemic world reminisce about the Internet and its ever reaching way. Here at Los Gázquez I haven’t been able to get an internet connection for days apart from the freak incident when I discovered a solid 4G signal at the top of a nearby, isolated mountain. I continue to carry my phone with me at all times however, to make use of the camera and sound recording apps. Whilst walking back to the house from a stroll with my handheld recorder, I heard/saw a helicopter pass over which reminded me of the passage in Mandel’s novel where a group of post-pandemic survivors see a helicopter fly by in the distance for the last time. How these everyday events suddenly become quite eerie. At this moment, my phone also started to produce a lot of electromagnetic noise, as if the helicopter had spurned jettisoned communication signals sensitive to the handheld digital device, the phone began its attempt to handshake with the ethereal network but to no avail.
Later I returned to the site and filmed myself trying to catch a signal. How the mighty have fallen. I lasted five days (where I might add I had internet all day of day one, and some time on the mountain top too. Can’t go five minutes without thinking about it. So there I am, searching desperately and ridiculously and receiving this interference, electromagnetic noise as the device searches and fails.
Later in the day, I gazed into the blue sky and thought about its seeming purity here. The sky, the cloud, the stars beyond them; how I might investigate the above further as part of this project of understanding a disconnected, slow world?
I thought about the airplanes that very occasionally fly by very high up in the sky, sometimes barely perceptible to the eye but always leaving a sonic footprint on the landscape. At night, the aircraft is almost even more perceptible, the traversing of red lights across the otherwise static stars followed by the rumble and thrust of jet engines, altering the otherwise nonhuman soundscape, filled by owls, crickets (IN SPAIN?) and occasional foxes.
The lights (as mentioned before) look like notification lights on electronic devices… In a place that feels like there is something lost from my everyday, can I teach myself to fly amongst the human presence instead? I’m reminded of Pauline Oliveros’ sonic meditation Teach Yourself to Fly and decide to setup an installation space in the studio that at night will dimly illuminate the space blue as instructed, as a starting point to begin my investigations and narrative. I can maybe add additional blue features using a projector. I plan to investigate this as my residency progresses.
The backup diesel generator has been going most of the day today. I hope this means that I’ll get a warm shower but I’m not sure that will happen during my stay. I’m very much ok with this situation for the time being though. The generator continues to rumble. It’s noise diffuses through the clay and the rock beneath it and reverberates deeply off the mountains and hills surrounding Los Gázquez. I have tested the geophone close up. It is uniquely designed to demonstrate that the vibrations go far beyond just the generator site itself and consequently I know that I must test the geophone in systematic steps away from the generator to determine how far the vibration reaches. It is a great opportunity to test it as normally, in urban built up environments, there is so much anthrophony that I couldn’t one source of deep vibration from another.
After much thinking, I saw this incredible sunset over the Western hills which filled me with awe at the world and hope that I’ll construct something beautiful here.
How everything that is of concern is circular – fans, rotations, discs, round and round – wind farm turbine rotates, cooling fans spin, this planet spins, does the bullroarer fit here? Should I let it go? Should I build it? What can I do in sound that gives this impression of constant forced motion – natural or unnatural forces of rotation? Rotations as force and vibrations along wires as memories and storage. The hard disk platter, the water flowing around a drain, we’re forever spinning.
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.