Thibault Jehanne‘s Eskifjörður (not to be confused with Eyjafjallajökull, so famously mispronounced by Ben Stiller in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”) is a pristine Icelandic soundscape captured in the eastern fjords. For those unfamiliar with Iceland, this is a relatively unpopulated area, as 90% of Icelanders live in and around the southwestern city of Reykjavik. This makes the eastern fjords a great place for field recording work, as intrusive sound is nearly absent. The water is cold and crisp; the mountains are well within view; and many natural wonders beckon. Not that humans are entirely absent from this three-track work; but here they are planned inclusions, rather than unwanted annoyances. Glass knocks gently against glass; a workman sets hammer to wood; a distant choir sends songs through the mist while children romp and play. This is a brilliant way to illustrate the dominance of the natural landscape without ignoring the reality of settlement. As people caught in an ongoing battle between natural preservation and foreign investment, Icelanders are at risk of losing many of their natural soundscapes; this set underlines that danger, hinting at the presence of construction yet not dwelling on its threat. A swift end to such sounds in the second track clicks like a cassette before reviving in opposition to the wind and waves. In “le réveil” (“the awakening”), water flows and drips, rustles and churns; booming subterranean blasts echo like commands from ancient gods. The timbre is similar to that found in the electronic works of Ben Frost, an Australian who has made Iceland his home. “le réveil” reminds us that Frost’s primordial sounds originated not from machines, but from the deep earth, and that they continue to resound for those brave enough to seek them out. The earth drones and hums, pops and spits, but as much as we seek to imitate the resonances of caverns and craters, we cannot supplant their primeval power. “les fantômes” (“the ghosts”) brings the point home. Icelanders have a strong ancestral sense, as well as an unyielding connection to land. Their ghosts can be great and terrible, or frightening yet benign. Jehanne begins by sampling an old musical recording, then introduces the sounds of the old earth. The piece ends with a brief segment of wind chimes: the natural working in tandem with the artificial, a delicate balance worth preserving.
A Closer Listen, Richard Allen, 2014