What is it like on the shore of the West Indian Ocean?
Material for this piece was recorded on the beach at Shangani, Mtwara in S Tanzania in December 2006. The piece was first made for installation on old TVs and shown at the shunt lounge in SEP-OCT 2007 as part of unfinished business. This online version was made shortly after that.
It seems to be a rough and ready response to the place, especially of course the ocean: its space, beauty, sounds, its constant changes, which were striking, even overwhelming at that time
We were staying right by the sea at the Eden Guest House. It was a period of exceptionally hot weather and there were frequent power outages. Mama Hilaria, the devout housekeeper who worked at the Guest House, did not approve of us. We were messy and unruly, with our children and little or no Swahili. We tried to cool beer in the freezer and when the power came on at night the bottles kept blowing up.
A strong memory is washing dishes in the little steel sink by a window looking out at the ocean. The dish water swished in the sink and the long tides of the West Indian Ocean swept in and out over the long, barely graded reef like a complex machine, producing permutations of marine light in a constant series of imperceptibly evolving frames that escaped description. A person is captivated on exposure to these objects that shift and resonate so intensely, to the long rhythm of the tide. Mama Hilaria topped the dishwashing liquid up with water so it got more diluted every day
The sweep of the bay - alternately smiling in the heat and sun or remaining withdrawn - is broken into segments and reconstructed as independent loops to make an internally split object that evolves unpredictably, according to asynchronous mechanics
I was aware of Graham Harman's work in the journal Collapse, but only later really connected the west indian ocean and similar pieces with Harman's accounts of objects, and especially the striking analogy between objects and steam powered music machines proposed in 'Tiny Calliopes' (Circus Philosophicus, Ch 3), which is set on a beach overlooking the Bay of Bengal in the academic year of 2007-08.
Igor Zvonic spoke the text and sent the recordings on a small player. I remember listening to them for the first time and laughing uncontrollably on the top of a bus going along the edge of Crystal Palace.
He is reading some new texts, and some excerpts from A Field Guide to the SEASHORES OF EASTERN AFRICA and the Western Indian Ocean Islands ed. Matthew D Richmond, which we were using to identify creatures in the shallow water over the reef.
[scan of cover]
[images of looking for marine life at low tide]
On 27 FEB 2014, the piece was projected onto the external S wall of the Tin Tabernacle in Kilburn as part of an event curated by Laura Plana Gracia and Javier Calderon. It looked like rain but the night turned cold and clear. The Whalephones were installed separately in two copper speaking tubes on the bridge of a ship that the Sea Cadets had installed in the building. You could hear humpback whales singing in the waters off Hawaii, in a live stream by the Jupiter Foundation. Their songs are elaborate 4 part loops that they sing and evolve collectively from early January to late April, when they return to the Arctic and the stream shuts down
[image of whalephones]
In the piece from Mtwara, a fisherman could be seen, fishing quite steadily with a small net, facing the sea
[image from outside of the tin tabernacle]
The West Indian Ocean as it encounters the bay at Mtwara, something the way sound encounters the human ear, provides both a stimulus and agitation and provocation; and at once a deep, sombre, sad, immense - really a moral sounding, it seems - for our thoughts and experiences of time, on a planetary scale, it feels like, and locally: in the sink. 'What is it like..?' was made with those impressions not so much in mind as the mind itself was immersed in them, sleeping and waking - whether mindful of the sounds of wind in the palms and the sea on the shore, or not: they were never actually 'out of mind' - because we were in them, the way we are in time