I was asked to write a ‘sound essay’ for the Portuguese magazine Wrong Wrong. The result was “Totems of Linearity“, a short text on how artifacts strewn across our landscapes, mostly related to communications infrastructure, electrification and border demarcations, can be appropriated as instruments of sonic architecture. Once redefined, these structures or totems of linearity, become objects of listening, in the way they allow us to ‘sense’ the non-human forces of the weather world. The text is accompanied by four field recordings and photos that I’ve collected over the years.
Should truth about the world exist, it is bound to be non-human – Joseph Brodsky
Much of the landscape is strewn with artifacts of linearity. Inscriptions of human transmission coded and uncoded demarcate borders, electro-materialist dependency and radio-teleological communication systems. Points may be connected via visible lines of wires or arrays of invisible signals transmitted via techno-telepathic networks. Physical in every aspect, these artifacts expose the parallel worlds of modernity yet remain isolated from their surroundings, standing out as sculptural figures traversing the open land. As structures unto themselves, they can be intrusive and out of place. Should obsolescence of their intended purpose set in by circumstances entirely unrelated to their location, they will either be left to weather, occupied by vegetation or recycled for their material value.
But there are some like me, who view the totems of linearity as tell tale instruments of sonic potential, objects that ‘voice’ the forces of the weather world, hinting at a relation to where they stand. With tools of the trade, their voicings may be heard, recorded and passed on to open ears, signifying a purpose beyond what their creators had intended. While not all of these totems voice an audible presence, their electro-magnetic fields extend their footprint well beyond the ordinary range of the perceived or felt, into the ether of the unknowable. Documenting the often random and seemingly haphazard methods by which the totems of linearity have been constructed in relation to their context, is an attempt to give an alternate perspective highlighting the impact of infrastructural determinism on an otherwise non-linear world. It is also an exercise in the imaginary, a paradoxical projection of what might be, for someone who is conditionally trained to hear the world beyond its predominantly visual signifiers.
My documenting of these ‘totems’ did not start out as an intentional gathering of sounds and images but emerged as a theme over the years through countless hours of searching for residual artifacts of human structures imposed upon the landscape. As with any quest it is natural after some time to question just what it is that I am hearing in the sounds that I capture, much of them inaudible to the naked ear. Through close proximity and physical contact one becomes aware of resonances that are often more felt than heard. Induced by the forces of the weather world, the sounds ranging from harmonic whispers and rumblings to clanging echoes of industrial servitude, give far greater character than their creators had ever intended. What then might this character represent but the animate potential of the totems to take on living qualities, expressing their material being in response to the conditions in their surroundings. Such expressions go on indefinitely in an open system, giving substantial doubt as to their lone status as inert objects. Even as you read this, those pictured here will be singing, pinging and ringing in the wind, snow and rain that continually shapes the land. The silencing only comes with the eventual destruction and/or removal of the totem.
Series of 4 sound recordings and photographs made between 2012 and 2016.
Below are several more images of totems of linearity series: