Hanna Hartman: Longitude/Cratere

Originally presented as radio broadcasts, the extended soundscapes “Longitude 013° 26' E” and “Cratere” (commissioned by the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation and DeutschlandRadioBerlin) were constructed by Swedish sound artist Hanna Hartman during 2003-04 using sounds recorded around the world and subsequently incorporated into new contexts. It's fascinating to witness the constant tension that emerges when a sound simultaneously references its original identity and assumes newly configured meanings within Hartman's compositions.

The concrete sounds on the composition “Longitude 013° 26' E” (a longitude running through Berlin, Kap Arkona, and the Baltic Sea) were recorded on sailing boats. The 18-minute piece navigates through extreme episodes of silence and violent ruptures, with tension building as brief quiet episodes (soft wind sounds) engender anticipation for the louder passages (creaking noises, hydraulic clanks, the sweeping slam of crashing waves) to come. At times, innocent noises assume ominous overtones in their new contexts. When magnified, the simple sound of footsteps on deck, for instance, exude a stalker ambiance, while the normal creaks of a ship's hull morph into disturbing groans. Contributions from Annette Krebs on prepared guitar and Robert Patterson on Horn further blur the line between environmental and instrument sounds; the horn tones, for example, could just as easily originate from a ship or Patterson.

Partially based on recordings of the Italian volcano Etna, the 27-minute “Cratere” evolves methodically through passages of cavernous exhalations and soft wind howls. At one moment, the annoying buzz of a fly appears, followed by soft crinkles that gradually build into loud clatter and rumbles. While “Cratere” is the slightly less harrowing of the two pieces, it too delivers its share of unsettling moments. At the 20-minute mark, its sounds suggest a subterranean torture chamber more than an outdoor volcano setting, with exhalations resembling the psychotic groans of a serial killer. The piece rises to its most aggressive levels during its final moments as seething rattles and rustlings commingle loudly.

While one should bear in mind that these are works of sound art as opposed to conventional musical compositions, these often extraordinary pieces teem with ever-evolving detail. In the absence of melodic continuity, the sound sculptor must deploy different strategies in order to sustain listening engagement, something Hartman accomplishes here by the force of her captivating constructions.

October 2005