A sea without a port
“Life springs from death, just like the sun rises each morning after its nightly voyage to the heavenly plain.”
Anyone who knows Joseph Sannicandro from his work on A Closer Listen, will know that he’s not someone who will take anything at face value, but likes to dig around and uncover the background stories behind any releases he might be writing about, outlining motivations and socio-political connections, which allow him to draw up illuminating interviews with artists.
He’s seldom off duty and when he goes off to Mexico City (or el DF) he takes his digital recorder with him, much in the same way that a XIX traveller might’ve carried a sketchbook jotting things down, taking notes, outlining the aural world he encounters in a bid to unpack its complexities. And yet he is wise enough to recognise himself as an American tourist with all the cumbersome baggage that comes with it.
In the extensive linear notes to A Sea Without A Port, Sannicandro states, “As our southern neighbor, there is the uncomfortable fact that so much of what is now the USA was once Mexico, the forgotten/repressed/unknown fact that much of the Mexican-American war was fought because Mexico had outlawed slavery. The fact that European settlement was forced on the indigenous peoples. Bigots and TV pundits cultivate fear of ‘illegal’ immigrants, yet ironically Mexico has long been perceived as a place where American ruffians and outlaws could flee to escape justice.” It follows that one of the tracks is titled “El tratado de Guadalupe” denying any possibility that this could ever be interpreted as a picture postcard rendition of DF. However, Sannicandro is neither descriptive nor dogmatic in his approach. “The post-colonial Mexico, the Mexico rocked by the effects of NAFTA, of sprawling slums and terrible poverty, of colonized peoples and traditional ways of life obliterated by the violence of multinational corporations and agricultural subsidies” are all acknowledged but never color our listening experience. Rather, it’s cultural filters that are used to ease our way into the complex sonic territory. The opening track, “I dreamt I was dreaming and I came home too late,” is titled after poetry by Roberto Bolaño. Aside from friends and musical connections (Umor Rex), Sannicandro is quick in paying tribute to the work of Juan Villoro, Leon Trotsky, Frida Kahlo, Francis Alÿs, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Octavio Paz, Rufino Tamayo and all the artists and writers who introduced him to DF long before he physically set foot there. And yet A Sea Without a Port never feels like the result of thoroughly researched homework. It is never dry, on the contrary, it sizzles with stimuli.
Sannicandro is not interested in adopting an observational stance. He happily tampers with field recordings preferring the textural to the documentary. He clearly has fun with whatever is picked up by both his Tascam DR-05 and his iPhone 3GS and is unafraid to compromise the supposed integrity of the untreated material. Presumably, in order not to be overwhelmed by the task at hand, he breaks down any possible linear narrative into disjointed chapters, often opting for jump cuts rather than cross fades. He’s constantly revising, retracing lines, rubbing out and filling in the gaps with new contradictory aural impressions, abruptly stopping the flow of sound almost mid sentence to introduce startling pauses. Chubby Cheker’s Let’s Twist Again filters through the fuzzy sonic ambience of the title track, snippets of lines from popular TV dramas populate “Ivan Illich”, short tape loops of street hawking play over and over like broken records on “Non-aerial cartography”, reverb blasts through “A halo is antiquated”. Everything is fragmented, shaken up and eventually blended to produce an intoxicating auditory mixture extracted from the city’s nooks and crannies.
Over the last 20 seconds of the last track, “The tragic concision of the dream”, Sannicandro introduces another snippet of what could be perceived as quintessentially “traditional Mexican music” but frustrates any expectations one might have of finally having time to savour its melodic quality by unceremoniously dropping the tune after only 10 seconds or so, leaving us with nothing to hold onto, and the impossibility of grasping yet again the “characteristic Mexican spirit” of his chosen location. As Sannicandro explains, “These recordings acknowledge the impossibility of ever truly knowing a place, especially one as rich and complex and contradictory as el DF.”
A Sea Without a Port is out as free digital download on Galaverna.