Island Terminus. ADRIAN DZIEWANSKI
Review by Caity Kerr
Adrian Dziewanski is a Vancouver based sound artist who, in his own words, ‘believes in the potency and poetry of musical happenstance and advocates for the benefits of active listening’.
Island Terminus [44:32] (2012), released on Gruenrekorder’s digital label, is a two-track album. Extensive sleeve notes can be had here. In offering some background to your listening experience I should mention that Dziewanski suffers from tinnitus, which he describes as a ‘musical hallucination’. In Island Terminus he decided to work with this affliction on a conscious level, channelling the phenomenon through his practice. Secondly you might like to know that the audio was culled from recordings made of three separate ferry voyages through the coastal waters of British Columbia, which included a number of stops at various ports along the way.
Paraphrasing the sleeve notes the first track [21:51] is more contextualized, showcasing a narrative of sea travel along the British Columbia coast. Track two [22:41] better captures the heart of the musical hallucination.
Track 1 is a full and rich broadband soundscape in which no attempt is made to reduce the sonic power of the machine-made sounds. Importantly, the basic compositional techniques of this kind of work are well represented: transitions and crossfades with corresponding shifts of register, a relaxed pace, perhaps reflecting the fact that in ferry travel you can’t exactly get off the boat in a hurry. I would point out also the effective juxtaposition of abstract(ed) sections with more straightforward ‘realistic’ representational passages. Having listened to dozens of works like this I often suffer from listening fatigue because of an over-abundance of broadband energy, flavoured and coloured of course by whatever microphones and devices are in use at the business end. Adrian Dziewanski overcomes this potential problem, only up to a point, by combining shorter sections of material, varying the spectrum and reducing the threat of full broadband sonic onslaught which, in addition to tiring out my ears, can often be timbrally or morphologically uninteresting and/or unmusical. The trick here, and Dziewanski is on to it, is to make the piece appealing by using basic and time-honoured musical techniques – obvious but often overlooked by composers who get too close to their material.
Another effective device is the use of the appearance of the ship’s horn to punctuate the narrative. This struck me as emotionally evocative, similar in many ways to bells and carrying by extension the notion of people calling to each other over distances, mediated by technology. There are however no voices, though there are many hints at human agency.
The piece flags a tiny bit in the last third but the raw material would challenge most people. I’d say it’s very well handled in the end. The last three minutes are classically acousmatic, offering us a distinctive banging sound, perhaps as the ferry draws into port.
Track 2 takes us into a long slow crescendo up to around 10’, gathering energy across the full bandwidth, though with a perceptible high frequency peak which perhaps alludes to the ‘musical hallucination’. There is no lack of detail in the middle of all this: watery sounds, machine drones, fluctuating clatters and bangs – the full works. And never too harsh as there’s probably some kind of filtering at work to take off the rough edges, though again the full bandwidth is tiring over the course of the piece. Something I like do in listening to this kind of work is to stop and start playback at various points to test for the full-on whooshing sound which causes the ear fatigue. I’d add to this the habit of walking in and out of the listening room to figure out if I’ve missed anything or if anything has moved on.
An interesting project would be to consider how far these kinds of pieces resemble each other across a range of individual compositions, gathered under ‘field recording’ or ‘phonography’. Furthermore, setting aside the composer’s intentions for a moment, we might ask if this is a document of what could (by some) be construed as a fairly uninteresting sonic experience – the documentation being the interesting part. Or we might ask to what degree the composer has transformed and arranged the material to make it interesting.
Overall, if you like what is becoming a classic kind of soundscape experience, this is a good one in many respects, and represents the emerging idiom very well.