I created this 8 channel composition by working extensively with 128 audio files accidentally geotagged in the middle of the Libyan desert on the Freesound.org sound-sharing platform. The files range from sea-side field recordings to radio broadcasts to drum hits to film sound effects, and much more. From contacting the contributors, I have learned that the audio files come from an array of places all over the world – Thunder Bay, Ciudad del Este, Pretoria, New York City, Zagreb, etc. How the files ended up geotagged in the middle of the desert remains obscure.
Sounding Desert Utopias involves multiple approaches to working with sound, using concepts drawn from historical research and critical reflection to guide technical processes. For instance, early 20th century travelogues from desert explorers highlight disorientation, sand storms, and shifting dunes encountered in the search for oases. In my composition, I play on these phenomena and effects to warp sounds, often beyond recognition, as I apply extreme forms of granular synthesis and topological transformations to geotagged audio files using my own custom-designed SuperCollider sampling instruments. Fragments of sounds, like grains of sand of varying sizes, velocities, and trajectories, continually refashion the sound space.
Throughout the work, tensions between multiple conflicting ideas of utopia (for whom and at what cost?) are sonically conveyed through the contrast between inviting and abrasive sonic passages.
Sounding Desert Utopias builds on ideas and processes from my earlier work Nowhere in the Desert (2017).
I acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.