Their polyphonic vocalizations are expressed in a wide repertoire of forms, including pops, clicks, whistles, purrs, grunts, groans, growls, barks, hums, hoots, rattles, and even tinkles. Some fish use their sonic muscle, attached to the swim bladder as a sound-producing organ, through rapid contractions and relaxation. Other produce high frequency sounds by rubbing together skeletal parts of their body. And still others communicate by their movement in the water or by expelling gas from the anal area, producing bubbles and the high-pitched sound of fast repetitive tics. For the odontocetes (toothed whales, dolphins, and porpoises), sounding is based on high-pressure air expelled over a bone structure, their phonic or “monkey” lips, which enables them to recirculate and reuse air. Mysticetes (baleen whales such as the blue whale and the humpback whale) also engage recirculating air for sound generation. Their sound is pulsed at frequencies well below the perception of the human ear, travelling thousands of miles in the ocean. It is through the bones in their head that they register sound vibrations and transmit them to an inner ear structure. Theirs is a hearing-centered world of sensing.
The sounds of the oceans form complex assemblages. Along with the biota, the oceans’ two interfaces, the air surface and the seafloor, produce a sonic ecology, emitted by seismic activities, ocean traffic, industrial extraction, different kinds of pollution (oil drilling, deep-sea mining, acoustic experiments, sonar), surface waves and swells, bubbles, and spray that intensify with atmospheric conditions and precipitation. Above the water, pelagic birds, winds, cyclones, storms, and aircrafts create an enveloping sonic space, all refracting on its surface. The vast majority of the oceans’ biomass is alive with organisms too infinitesimal for us to see or, for that matter, to hear. Zooplankton and phytoplankton, microviruses, and bacteria engage in endless cycles of decay and regeneration. This watery body formed about three billion years ago and still circulates in us, through us—along with the plastic polymers, the radioactive isotopes, the nitrogen, phosphorus, CO2, the pesticides, hormones, and other run-off residues traveling through its molecules.
The So(ng)qe/Tovuto Kyrrahafið Sound Field is a sound installation synthesized of the diffracting patterns of sound waves interweaving with oceanic waves, the codas of whales, the whistling and grunting of fish, the clicking of crustaceans, and the aeolian humming of winds. Forms passing through each other, drones of sounds sensing, capturing, and transmitting the vibratory force in all organisms that seduces, oscillates, interfaces, and resonates. It is a So(ng) and a So(ng)qe, the Fijian word for pigeon, of the Tovuto, the great whale of the Pacific-Kyrrahafið—a multi-phonic, dispersed, sonic movement through, with, and across the sound fields of the open and coastal sea. It is a song of dedication and mourning, but more so, a sonic collaboration with the more-than-human critters of the Pacific around the islands of Fiji and Tonga. Inscribed deep in its synthetic composition, it carries the memories and voices of the oceans, but also of the detritus scuttling along the water column, oscillating in material and affective assemblages. The sonic archive in the making of the waters and its inhabitants indexes relationships with the anthropogenic oceans, but also to time, sensation, and degradation.
Troubled by environmental injustices played out in the waters of the oceans, affecting human and more-than-human bodies and lives, Jónsi, a sound artist, chanteur, organic music composer and composter living in Reykjavik and Los Angeles mostly known for being the lead singer and bow/guitarist in Sigur Rós and Carl Michael von Hausswolff, a visual artist, electro-acoustic composer and king of Vargaland living in Stockholm teamed up to form Dark Morph. Their project, which came to life onboard the research vessel Dardanella and manifested so far in an LP, live performances, and this (inaugural) installation, is based on hydrophone recordings sampled, manipulated, and assembled during a field trip driven by research, exchange, and collaboration. “We used a lot of the recordings from Fiji, and I started to take the recordings and manipulate them, and mutate them into drones or into other types of musical functions—so we could actually use the sounds as instruments for building compositions. We also said, ‘Let’s try not to have them sounding too much like real sounds, let’s turn them into something else.’ When I had done some drones, some long tones out of a bird or something, I gave it to Jónsi and he started to peel off certain types of melodious things, and then play it to me. And then we started to just throw the ball back and forth,” explains von Hausswolff.
The So(ng)qe/Tovuto Kyrrahafið Sound Field unfolds as a densely structured, distributed, and empathic site of sensations—hearing and embodying—, animating the situated, sensory capacities that concresce through perception, composition, electronic amplification, synthesizing, and modulation. Reaching out to ocean life, its environments, and geographies, it talks from and to the intelligence and knowledge of water, animals, and humans alike. The disruptive ferocity of human-induced violence over the oceans’ watery, molecular, and fluid body translate into a sonic provocation reminding us, perhaps, that what is at stake in the coming of the Anthropocene is not the stratigraphic snapshot of the earth’s geologically bounded lithosphere, but more so, how the earth depends on its living and sounding aqueous planet.
Dark Morph is a collaborative project by Jónsi (Sigur Rós) and Carl Michael von Hausswolff. During a fellowship as part of TBA21-Academy’s expedition program on the research vessel Dardanella, Dark Morph and Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza collected field recordings while visiting the newly established Tabu Site at Vanua Vatu Reef in Fiji and then synthesized them onboard. Following the itinerant practice of the Academy, Dark Morph mastered the tracks at Gee Jam Studios in Jamaica, while in residence at Alligator Head Foundation. An inaugural live event was performed at Desert X, as part of The Current II – Convening #2 led by SUPERFLEX.
On and with Dark Morph’s The So(ng)qe/Tovuto Kyrrahafið Sound Field by Daniela Zyman.