Though already several years old, this release has rather slipped under the radar – and I use that metaphor referencing electromagnetic fields in the radio-wave spectrum rather purposefully.
Walking a hazy line between unadulterated field recording, radio art and mixed analogue recording sound artifacts, this work is highly evocative of what is now, as far as its former population is concerned, a fictional place. Recorded around the village of Moynak, once an economically and culturally important port city along the coastline of the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan, the entire region is now landlocked thanks to a variety of agricultural developments and policies – the proliferation of cotton plantations being central among them. Casas picks up the radio frequencies which continue to saturate the place even in its drastic decline in population and habitability. This is a rather effective way of introducing historicity to the sound without directly contrasting the town’s erstwhile cultural prosperity to its current desertification (both literal and figurative). The propagation of radio waves from distant cities gives a sort of tactile geographic map of the region, and their low fidelity reinforces the distance that has grown between Moynak and its former population.
While Casas doesn’t eschew recording techniques which blatantly contribute to a sense of the exotic or otherness, neither does it feel contrived. The political and environmental implications are an obvious subtext to anyone doing even basic background research, but the piece works on aesthetic grounds as well. There are no cloying attempts to play off of traditional folk music with modern synthesizers and drum-machines in the manner of so much post-industrial music (old and new, unfortunately – I’m looking at you, Rapoon). The sustained sections of heavily distorted Uzbek folk music segmented by bursts of squelching frequency modulation owe as much to Sublime Frequencies’ series of radio recordings as to Michael Esposito’s EVPs. While it is easy to overplay the political nature of the work, the listener is ultimately left with a sense of optimism at the fact that even after such ecological disaster, music and culture find a way to sustain themselves, as does the village itself.
A (more) limited version of the release includes a copy of a cassette handed around the remaining village of overdubbed and distorted Russian pop music, introduced to the community by migrant workers returning from jobs in Russia. The two cassettes play off each other beautifully, both conceptually and musically. The latter as each type of recording has similar disruptive audio artifacts introduced by different analogue technologies, and the latter as each delineates the forces of migration, globalization, empiricism and cultural exchange which resulted in the near total, and continuing, destruction of Moynak and the Aral Sea.
Lastly, it should be noted that Carlos Casas first visited the region in 2004, when he produced the film ‘Aral Fishing In An Invisible Sea’. It documents the remaining 3 generations of fishermen still plying their trade insofar as it is possible. A trailer follows.