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(With thanks to Cheryl E. Leonard)
The nature of the disappearance of A——— occurred under mysterious circumstances, leaving the international community vexed as to how to resolve the various disputes that arose regarding each nation’s legal responsibility in the matter. Despite the drafting of new legislature, none has yet to be enacted. To date, all matters remain unresolved. In the hopes that the person addressed in the diary might read the following and contact us providing further information, we have decided to publish the diary in full, from the date of departure for Antarctica until the last date of entry.
Although we are uncertain of the precise dates of these entries, we can speculate with relative accuracy the range of probable dates of the majority of the entries until the one describing the “sharowadji” effect. Some speculate that this entry represents the onset of insanity, while others speculate, hinting at a conspiracy, that the sharowadji event is true but that the evidence was destroyed. Indeed, the recordings were either stolen or confiscated. Reports regarding the disappearance of both A——— and the recordings provided by personnel stationed at the base during the period under scrutiny are conflicting and cannot be relied upon.
Unbridled and unintentional structures disrupt the nature-culture binary and reveal new forms of life beyond their disorder, which paradoxically can be completely fabricated.Sonic Experience: A Guide to Everyday Sounds, edited by Jean-Francois Augoyard and Henry Torque
Alone, to the Ice. In the belly of the aircraft, a whining, a groaning, or maybe it’s this stomach churning. Neither pills nor patches have relieved this body from the sense that the world is upending, overturning. Flying has always been a fear, yet here I am.
The craft pitches through the sky; the pitch crafts through the sky. The vibrations roll – high-low, high-low – and I wait for my own upheaval, struggling to compose this body, strapped in to the side of the plane. There is nothing to see but cargo.
Then it all uncomposes, decomposes. Not me; the sound. Is it
the end over? I hear silence: snow, static, ghosts, whales, or is it because things are unquiet or because I tune in? That is why I am here: to tune in. How did it happen? I am here, and it feels like the world is ending. Am I ending? There will be no communication. That was the agreement. That this is a break. (Shut up.) To think this is only the beginning. I cannot yet say that I am missing. You.
English: unofficial lingua franca on the Ice. The Ice: slang for the continent. The official tongue, I believe, is some kind of language to which I am not yet savvy. Everyone here is a bit offbeat.
It’s summer, which means most days I’m wearing thermal underwear, jeans, a flannel, insulated gloves, the issued wool socks, and my hiking boots. I have other clothing I haven’t worn except for when I attended the two-day snow survival course, during which I had to build and stay in a snow cave. I say stay because I didn’t sleep at all. A lot of people refuse to wear the parka or any of the ECW (Extremely Cold Weather) clothing, but the way the base is laid out, everything disconnected, means being outside for a certain duration. Plus, most people work outdoors or in an exposed environment. I can get away with fewer layers here, but once I’m on the sea ice, the temperature will be colder.
I know this place is a desert, but the air is even drier than I imagined. I use a lot of lip balm. I get a lot of nosebleeds. I’m able to go for a run outside, but deciding on the number of layers and preventing myself from sweating, which is the worst thing you can do, has made me question how long I can keep this up. I’m not the only runner here, but still, I’m used to conditions being a bit less extreme. Believe it or not, they do hold marathons here.
Living at the station is like how I imagine it might be to live on a desert island, except here the island is surrounded by snow. Right now, during the summer, the dirt roads are generally snow-free. When the wind blows, it angles past fuel storage tanks, cargo piles, and what look like extended mobile homes set on cement blocks. These mobile homes are the dorms, and inside one is my room. Well, it’s not exclusively mine. I have a roommate, an artist. The last time I slept in a bunk bed was in a hostel when I was studying abroad. I have to sleep on top.
How long have I been here? How long has it been since I last saw night? There are no days, only an eternal afternoon. The sun undulates in transverse waves, never dipping below the horizon, unsettling, relentless, pale, except when the clouds grey the light.
If I want darkness – and I need darkness to sleep – I have to cover the window with the insulating blanket. This is sufficient, but I still hide beneath the sheet, which is usually more like attempting to sleep. When my roommate snores, I put in the earplugs and turn on my flashlight to read my Qur’an, my Bible, my sutra: R. Murray Schafer’s The Tuning of the World. In moments of relative quiet, I still my body and try to hear my heartbeat as the station groans – or is it this body? – and the emptiness of the cavernous halls shapes the space.
But outside, that beat is too muffled by layers or by the wind travelling across the Ice, whipping against my coat as it brushes past. Why did I think I’d hear silence? Pure silence. But I do hear a silence – not the silence I expected but a response. To the call of the wind, the water. The Ice.
The Ice is my nation: no one’s land. Borders are like gods or saviours in that humans create them first, then insist on believing in them after. As a student, I lived in a city in one nation that bordered the city of a separate nation. While I was studying, the fence was torn down and replaced with sculptures. I know: You’ve heard this all before. Maybe it’s why I don’t believe in borders.
Then what do I believe in? The Ice. The Ice is YHWH, Brahma, the ultimate truth. No: Here, even the immortal is mortal.
So why bother recording? If it’s for a posterity that soon will end, slain by the generations to come, why bother? Regardless, that’s why I’m here, why I received the grant. My work is to record the sounds of place, space. My work: Why do I insist on using the established term when I mean play? My play then is this: to compose a bio-acoustic opus for human consumption. How will nonhumans absorb this?
You and I – “
we?” – already know. Which is why I’m writing this here, now, for me and not for you. I need the reassurance more than you. Why I’m here. Alone among the masses. The other among the others. I await the Ice awaits I. Me. Without.
Thin ice is best for underwater acoustic phenomena. Think of it like a membrane. Sounds disperse across water’s surface. A crack in sea ice is the perfect location for sound recording – the closer to the crack, the thinner the Ice.
In summer, the Ice is in flux. Opening and freezing. Reopening, refreezing. The Ice plays itself, improvising. Like a relationship with someone who’s known you long enough not to know you anymore.
Why insist on remembrance? What resists recording? There is no such thing as a shared experience. The audience isn’t listening.
here hear heare me? I am ear. Hear. Here. Ear.
I read what you sent. I could infer from its content you miss me. Mostly you mentioned your work. Insufferable, isn’t it? Passion.
It is your passion, isn’t it?
Do I seem ungrateful? Do I seem wanting? Do I seem? More than language. Body language. It may speak louder than words, but when a body remains unobserved, marks like these are the best substitute. Written words: are they the solid trace of sound? They erase so easily. The trace erases. Traces erase. I brace myself. My self I break. Who am I
Do you read me?
Yes, the soft-serve ice cream is good. And white. Very white.
We are required to leave the station in pairs. We were authorised the use of a Zodiac. We embarked, together, for we agreed we worked best alone. We navigated through the brash ice, almost silent, until we found a place to land. I stepped onto the ice shelf, uncertain if I was fearless or too terrified to acknowledge my fear. The artist – I see by “we” I meant the artist and I – departed in the Zodiac to sketch an iceberg. Later I would learn of the difficulties of sketching, in these layers and in these conditions, and the hush of hearing an iceberg calve: an event I would like to record.
As if recording is any easier. Every half hour I must interrupt recording to radio the station.
When the artist returned for me, it was late in the afternoon. The light was still glaringly dull. Time was still still. My lips, blue. The artist said I resembled a corpse. I wanted as much.
You only think you do. But you do not.
Maybe you do. What do I know? How could I?
From a hydrophone. Through an ice hole. Close to the surface. I heard…Words cannot describe. But I’ve already attempted to describe. And wish I hadn’t.
I cannot erase these words.
Only strike them through. And if I did erase them, to whom would it matter? None but me. I won’t erase them. I won’t alter them. As if by refusing to change them, this, any of this, I am employing the only method I know to immortalise myself. Then no more strikethroughs. For it is the faults that keep someone – what I like to think of as me – wholly in the world.
Descending tones are especially synthetic. The Ice is not the only source.
In the sea beneath the Ice – beneath me – Weddell seals click and whistle. Synthesised chirps and bombs. The crack is too narrow for them to squeeze through. They gnaw breathing holes where I see mothers tending pups.
The Ice seems a solid body. Suggests simplicity. A single crack reveals it is nothing. Reveals the complexity. Splits and cracks and splits. Cracks the complexity of a reality that only reveals its absence in that moment when it approaches with a sound that drowns me within its ouroboric resonance.
I wonder if they know I am hear. Here. Heare. They know. Why I am heare. How am I heare? If they care. They care. How we must suffer.
Aloneliness. No one to share the Ice with. By “no one” I mean…How do I?
Sound is my companion. In my room, I play back the day’s recordings on my computer. Chop sounds into bites manageable enough to orchestrate. Which is the problem. The world is overmanaged. The more I compose by dissection, the more monstrous the sound becomes. It is not a question of creation or destruction. It is one of perpetuation. Of preservation. But what is preserved and what wants preservation?
Perhaps the sounds are not the performance. The sounds sound. I attempt to simplify their complexity through composition. But they preserve as noise.
Can the stillness of listening be an act? I block out the extraneous. Otherwise, too much. Senses can only perceive so much (Nothing is extraneous.) Some would call this patience. A gift, a skill.
I want you to heare this, too. As I heare it, below this day’s glaring sun, ears burning like saviours at the stake, suffering the flames of the freezing wind. For whose sake? For what ears? Your performance. I am.
When I record the Ice – weather conditions dictating session duration – I wear as much as I possibly can without restricting basic movement. It’s difficult to handle a hydrophone with mittens on, let alone two pairs over gloves. That is why I asked the artist for assistance. The artist, knowing firsthand this difficulty, agreed.
My parka is blood red.
Famed sailor and sealer James Weddell died like an artist – in poverty and relative obscurity in London. He was forty-seven. The seals are named for the man who slew them. Who, upon first hearing them, speculated their sound was the music of mermaids. What disappointment to discover such song was merely the call of a pinniped.
I watched a mother gnaw the Ice, knowing the unlikelihood of her living past the age of twenty – twenty years fewer than the others of her genus. She will wear out her teeth sustaining the circumference of this breathing hole, without which she would drown.
Evolution may eventually adapt her species to life in the sea alone. Supposing leptonychotes weddellii survive another million years. For now, it’s slow suicide. Her teeth will grind down to the gums until she can no longer catch prey. Then she will starve to death.
This is my
life separate life. No, this is my life. Separate. Life. Existence. A universe. I promised no more strikethroughs.
Sound is: the sun, the moon unseen, the Ice in cracking choir, now. Cracking and ever more so with the pillaging and politicking of Earth’s atmosphere, itself cracking to the dark matter of the deaf universe – the only appreciative audience.
If I could compose what Weddell heard. But he heard what I heare. The only difference is that I know what makes a sound when I heare it. Or can at least conceive of what causes the vibrations.
No. The only difference is I believe in the nonexistence of mermaids. For Weddell, a mermaid was possible. Even after discovering the existence of the seal. That was his truth. Which is how we all experience the truth. So, there is no difference. No truth. Only difference.
Beneath the Ice, life lives in abundance. Above it, we attempt to tame the land. We are practical, we are reasonable. We are human. If these are synonyms for stubborn and ignorant. We are not we. Strive for inhumanity. To not be
human. I promise no more strikethroughs. I promise no more strikethroughs.
Practicality and reason: the twin-heads of the machine of suffering. The things you care about, to me, are so inconsequential. Like what happens when I forget your birthday.
Happy birthday! Wish you were…
Three layers – base, insulation, and shell – may not seem like enough. It is. But anything less beckons death. Understand the difference between “layers” and “articles of clothing.”
This afternoon I went outside to retrieve a mic I’d left in the doo. I didn’t bother to pull on my hat. Inside, as I walked down the hall to the dorm room, the artist approached me. Stopped. Stared. Not until the artist had taken me to the clinic did I see. My ears were red, swollen – nearly frostbitten. My body shivered longer than I felt the cold.
Twenty percent of all body heat is lost through the head. Perhaps I also lost a percentage of brain cells.
This is why I refrained from mentioning the artist too much: questions. I don’t think of the artist as anything more than another pair of ears.
Do I really hear what I hear? Or have I already reconstructed it? Why reconstruct for the listener when the listener will reconstruct?
The sounds compose themselves. Or we compose them as we heare them. Into compositions that relate to our respective perceptions. Preservations.
Only in the destruction of perception can we hope to find truth.
If no philosopher has stated that, one should. Because, coming from this one, they’re just words.
Listening to the Ice, I am transported back to an era when this mass was not a single continent but land in coalescence with other land. Preborder, precontinent. In the Ice, in the sea, I hear the echoing forth of primordial tropics, teeming with incessant life. Auguries of extinction heard too late to redirect fate. Then a gale wind slams into my back, and I’m blown into a present where desert has claimed all trace of forest. Nothing could stop this wind from howling me off the Ice, into the sea. Not that it should care to; I doubt it would notice.
Along with the current, such winds formed this ice sheet. As though these elements were one. And though precipitation is rare, the wind blows an archaic snow out from the continent’s interior, layering it upon the ice sheet. Waves roll into shallower water, rise, stress the ice sheet, and though the ice sheet resists, it must succumb to these elemental pressures: air, sea. So, it gives up. It cracks.
I watched a penguin waddle away from a colony, toward the interior, and I understood.
Nothing to write. Likewise, you.
Today I experienced it: the sharawadgi effect.
Corrupted from sorowaji, as once applied to architecture, now resurrected for its pertinence to sound. Everyday sound, to the flaneur – the city stroller – but the Ice is my Paris – or Perth, Lagos or Los Angeles, Quito, or Kyoto – and its acoustics my everyday: car tires, babble, and birdsong. So, when the sounds suddenly merge into a monstrous semblance, what occurs? Not an enlightenment but an asymmetry.
A roar, surfacing through the patterned chaos of the Ice and seals like a didgeridoo or a dung-chen, not blown by any aborigine or monk but by the ancient, eerie breath of the familiar unknown. For an eternal moment everything rang clear, and the airy taste of the universe groaned in pure sound, the shade of late afternoon sunlight below the surface of a water so cold it scalds. The ice sheets melted and cracked; the wind rushed out from the interior, blowing me into the sea through a slit between ice sheets that could not refreeze and continued melting until the whole of the continent melted like a solitary snowflake, and the waters rose and washed over the entire earth in a great deluge that left nothing in existence save water and the rock at the bottom of the sea. Then the water evaporated as steam and scalded the moon – I’ve forgotten what the moon looks like! – and all that remained was dust – dust, with no one to grab a handful because no hands existed, only the dust, and not even that, for it was blown out into space. And then the sun swallowed the Earth, and the sun exploded, and the sun became a black hole and sucked in all the matter around it. Then the universe began to condense, and it condensed, and it continued condensing, and it condensed so long all of existence as we know it could have lived through that condensation and never witnessed the end: infinity inside of nothing.
But as for now…
Earthly apocalypse begins. Is negligible.
You called. We agreed not to. Call. The call. The Ice called. I couldn’t answer. On the Ice.
Now I know how to compose: don’t. The effect: the piece. Will it produce itself for the listener? Is it possible to reproduce in a recording? I hope so. Because, once heard, how to perceive as before?
Artist has no idea what the sound is. Called it USO: Unidentified Sound Object.
Played the recording for
the others them. The others. Though see them every day, they remain distant. As distant as this continent once seemed.
Today on the Ice, the sun especially blinding. Exceptionally warm. Relatively, of course. Anywhere else on Earth, would still be freezing. But, despite layers, body trembled. Though felt warmth, as if the very sun was freezing. Believe may freeze onto the Ice. If not blown away first. Meanwhile, break. Into sound.
After I called you, after you told me you couldn’t speak – because you had to boil the water – I stepped outside. No gloves, no hat, no parka. I had to know. Know the chill.
The sun glinted as the wind swooped. Every muscle in my body tensed. I quaked. I pulled my thermal’s sleeves over my bare hands and embraced myself. Snow slithered across the ice, coiled around my boots. I wanted to lie with it. To lie down and sleep with it. To stay with it, to freeze to it, to become it. Instead I kicked, kicked at it and stamped, unscreaming, pleading, wanting. Wanting…
Was artist. Not.
Said nothing. Was not lying. Sorry. For? Nothing. No thing. To be. For.
No one does heare. What is done heare is done.
What is done is done.
Frostbite. If recurs, amputation.
Wouldn’t mind. Heard all want.
Hurt heard hurt all. Heaurtd. Haunted. Heauanrtd.
The Ice, the Ice, the Ice, the Ice, the Ice, the Shhh!
Although this is the last written entry in the diary, a final page is rumoured to exist, which contains what is either musical notation intended to be played or a spectrum of the sonic “structures” that may or may not relate to the so-called “USO.” Although this page is mentioned in the preliminary report on the disappearance of A———, it too disappeared shortly after its being recorded – if, in fact, it existed at all.