“Dark Speech” is the first album-length release by Geneva Skeen, a multidisciplinary artist living in Los Angeles. The liner notes indicate that the music is based around field recordings made in various parts of the world, such as Finland, the Galapagos Islands, and the Californian desert, but this is far from a ‘documentary-style’ work of phonography. Instead, the various transformations and augmentations applied to the recordings become a way of documenting something less obvious and clear-cut: an immersive sensory participation in the world, rather than a detached observation of it.
The album opens with muted voices, framed not so much as intelligible linguistic gestures as the sound of speech as such. These are quickly drowned out by the roaring of air and the oscillating clank and grind of machinery, before these sounds themselves give way to warm chords, a vague breathy melody, and gentle throbbing. These juxtapositions articulate a theme that recurs across the remainder of the album’s four tracks: the frequent blurring of boundaries between ambient harmonies and captured and manipulated noises. A simplistic interpretation of this theme might be in terms of a dichotomy between exterior and interior, between the outer world at large and inner thoughts and feelings, but the music is much more subtle than this, presenting a mutability of texture and orientation in which particular forms of experience can take multiple sonic shapes.
Take the third track, ‘ambivalence’, as another example: a looped sung refrain repeats over a held drone and squelchy pulses. The singing voice establishes a fixed point of view within the music, but as everything shifts and changes around it, so it too is transformed, eventually forming multiple echoing layers that swell like clouds of steam pouring off a hot geyser. Vocals are also heard on the final track ‘death in a valley of fading stars’, holding long, wordless notes before being manipulated and altered beyond recognition amid see-sawing pitched tones and clattering. Throughout the album, a damp, humid tone keeps things veiled in fog, dark speech the means by which the world speaks itself, and us, into being, obscurely, in ever-changing forms.