Matthias Urban, an Austrian sound artist, has crafted an impeccable aural narrative documenting his travels in Iceland between 2013 and 2016. Sial1, in two 20 minute halves to fit this cassette release, takes an upstream journey from coast to inland glaciers, where we are witness to ice calving into a lake. Here, water molecules are released and begin their journey to the world’s oceans, providing the wider context to the recording – climate change, melting of glaciers and sea level rise.
Waves crash on a shingle beach, dragging cobbles back and forth, before a lone bird call marks our retreat up the strand to sit amongst wildlife, captured with beautiful clarity by omnidirectional DPA 4060 microphones, a Sennheiser MKH 8040, and sensitive stereo panning. A sudden flap of wings takes us to flowing river sounds as we head further inland, waves dropping out of the mix. More birds return in a cacophony of song, a crescendo resembling bleeps of an electronic noise album. Side 1 ends in abstract sound, Ambient ASF-1 hydrophone recordings to the fore. Side 2 starts in the same vein until we hear a steady stream of reverbed dripping water (an ice cavity?). Weird electronic-sounding beats punctuate the calm until the dramatic moment ice shears into agitated lake waters. Water sounds fade before a final refrain of desolate wind concludes the album.
1Sial is a geological term for the Earth’s outer continental crust, typically composed of silicate rocks. Sial derives from the chemical symbols for silicon (Si) and aluminium (Al).