Review by Jay-Dea Lopez in the Field Reporter
What is the audibility of loss? This is the central question driving Sebastiane Hegarty’s latest series of recordings released under the title “tʃɔːk: eight studies of hearing loss”. The pieces presented by Hegarty might seem quite simplistic upon first listening, chalk retrieved from various locations is recorded as it pops and crackles in a vinegar solution, yet the process driving the recordings is one filled with poetic intent. Listening closely to these miniature sounds we are instilled with a renewed sense of wonder towards the ephemeral relationship between sound and time, the process of field-recording forging an auditory bridge to earth’s Paleolithic past.
The physical subject of Hegarty’s recordings is chalk, a substance composed of compressed fragments of microscopic organisms that once swam in earth’s prehistoric oceans. Hegarty uses chalk sourced from Argentina, England, France, and Madagascar with specimens dating from the late Jurassic to Late Cretaceous periods. As we listen to Hegarty’s chalk recordings we become immersed in our distant past. We eavesdrop into an era when dinosaurs ruled the earth. The crackle and pop of air escaping from chalk in the vinegar solution echoes this ancient biological past. Other recordings of chalk from the late Cretaceous period signal a distinct change in earth’s evolution – with global cooling dinosaurs had largely become extinct, new species of plants and animals were coming into existence and continents were continuing to drift apart. As we listen to this era of mass extinction we wonder about our own future.
There is something very precious, indeed spellbinding, in listening to these recordings. In his notes about the process Hegarty says “The white static noise released as chalk fragments dissolve, offers up an acoustic shell to our ear, through which we can hear the decaying Geiger roar of deceased seas … There is something supernatural in this alchemical transformation of solid matter into effervescent air. This movement from stillness into sound, reminiscent of Ariel’s escape from substance in Shakespeare’s The Tempest: a voice and song set free to ‘take the ear strangely’”. And so it is. Hegarty’s recordings connect us to something much greater than ourselves. In this sense “tʃɔːk: eight studies of hearing loss” is a profound listening experience.