The Unintentional Sea – Rafael Anton Irisarri and the sound of the erosion of life. (Music Review)
Is man-made environmental tragedy suicide?
If, according to Camus, suicide is an open admission that life is not worth living, then perhaps environmental degradation is a subliminal declaration of the same? What does it mean when we will not act to repair our own environmental damage? For Rafael Anton Irisarri, an artist inspired by existentialists such as Camus, the Salton Sea is more than a perfect metaphor, it is a sad tragedy of errors that build each upon the other to form a perfect nihilistic wall that reverberates with a promise masked as a threat to complete a certain circle of recognition. The Salton Sea isn’t just dying, and it isn’t just killing every living thing in it and near it with its horribly high salinity levels. It is absorbing local pollutants and using its unique position over the San Andreas and other Fault lines to morph into a special kind of monster, that initially mankind in all its wisdom tried to pacify with the cubic zirconia of tourism. The pressure from the weight of the Salton Sea sits over the crossover point of several fault lines, waiting for the precise moment to turn the entire Imperial Valley region to a soil liquefaction led disaster. Projects are underway to heal the Salton Sea and ourselves along with it, a murmur of a hope that relies upon the Salton Seas ability to give life just as it freely takes it.
Rafael Anton Irisarri as been making the beautiful out of enormous sound scapes rustling with static filled micro textures inspired by philosophies or natural events and occurrences for years now, but The Unintentional Sea evokes an essential examination of transformation of place. A sea isn’t only deep in nature, it carries inside each gathered molecule a patterned history it insists on repeating. Sound touches depth more perfectly even than our ability to know what we hear, so Irisarri’s sound spirals down through infected fluid to find the place in us all where the wells connect. The listener walks with him along the cracked and fragile base of the sea, the ominous sounds calling us further on into the journey to our own anxieties. Track One, aptly named ‘Fear and Trembling’ is a submergence into the reality of our unconsciously planned death, called forth through negligence and ignorance, fed by fear and amaurotic stumbling. This strange journey comes to a powerful conclusion of fate meeting awareness in track three, ‘The Witness’, a ghostly whisper of previous tracks hovering in the salted dark as Irisarri’s rumbling drones and receding echoes of life abandon the listener to themselves, trapped in the endless agony of choice, witness to the consequence of their inertia.
This is not to imply all five tracks of this extraordinary album are plummets of the depths of human nihilism pushed to its natural consequences. Between Tracks one and three is the sublime ‘Her Rituals’ which seems to hold the promise of the turning of the tide and the hope the rescuers place in the longevity of our personal seas. Where track one implied submergence, track four, aptly titled ‘Daybreak Comes’ implies emergence, and a possibility for the transformation of place and person that so absorbs Irisarri. Track five, ‘Lesser than the sum of its parts’ hovers at the surface again, lyrical and composed, a beautiful work, and yet the drone has a touch of the darkness of the more disturbing pieces, implying the overwhelming burden of the freedom to choose how we will act.
The compositional materials on Irisarri’s sound palette are predominantly electronic, though The Unintentional Sea includes some field recordings floating through the modern classical experimental electronics. Always present as an emotional feeder is the superb drone that eventually collapses, right at the end of the recording, into an almost transcendent voice, implying a further rise, beyond the waters, beyond the mistakes to a cathedral quality redemption. If Camus said the greatest problem to be solved is suicide, then surely, our relationship to that which feeds us and keeps us alive is central to that question.