Nathan Thomas reviews Eight Studies in Hearing Loss for Fluid Radio
The second instalment of Sebastiane Hegarty’s ‘Four Walks Around A Year’ was recently released on Gruenrekorder to favourable reviews, but traditional location-based field recording is only one of many strings to this artist’s bow. For his new release on Devon-based label Very Quiet Records, he took various ancient objects — pieces of chalk, ammonite fossils, a dinosaur egg — and dissolved them in vinegar, capturing the sounds they made as they fizzed away.
If I didn’t know what I was hearing, I might have identified these eight tracks as recordings of rainwater dripping through a gutter, or fizzy drinks being poured into glasses. Sounds of ordinary, unremarkable things. It is only through reading Hegarty’s notes (and track titles helpfully naming each object being dissolved) that one becomes aware of the prehistoric provenance of the sounding materials. In this sense, I guess it’s fair to say that the work’s concept isn’t audible in the work itself (if we take ‘the work itself’ to be merely what is heard), in the way that the ‘Four Walks’ are audibly outdoor meanders through different seasons. The ‘extra information’ regarding the nature of the sounds is what lifts them out of the ordinary and opens them to wider ideas of loss and the inevitable passage of non-human, geological time. Yet they do not bend under the weight of such heavy themes, remaining detailed and intricate enough to be interesting in and of themselves, seemingly in resistance to the enchanting narrative of transformation imposed upon them by the concept.
I raise this point because I struggle to see Hegarty as a purely conceptual artist in the orthodox sense, yet at the same time his work could hardly be reduced to a concern with ‘pure sounds’ or some other unreflexive notion. ‘Eight Studies of Hearing Loss’ is a record about loss and the passing away of all things, yet it is also both more and less than this; the concept and the sense data do not match point-to-point. It is perhaps for this reason that I find it both more interesting and more affecting than music that sets out to convey a sense of loss or decay directly, through some form of musical metaphor or plea to the emotions. For some, a quick read of the notes and a single playback will be enough to ‘get it’, but I find myself compelled to listen again and again.