Rafael Anton Irisarri: The Unintentional Sea

With all due respect to Eno and his Music for Airports, Rafael Anton Irisarri's The Unintentional Sea might just as easily have been titled Music for Philosophers, given track titles such as “Fear and Trembling” and “Daybreak Comes Soon” that call to mind figures like Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. In actual fact, the thematic content at the core of the release is a different beast altogether: available in vinyl and digital formats, The Unintentional Sea perpetuates Irisarri's focus on landscape-inspired musical renderings by presenting it as the sequel to his earlier The North Bend.

The new work takes its inspiration from the Salton Sea, an intended river re-direction plan that failed in its goal of facilitating Californian agricultural development at the turn of the twentieth century. Instead, it resulted in rising levels of water mineralization that, in turn, led to the death of fish and other wildlife and eventually the departure of the human populace, too. It's hardly the first time human intervention has resulted in the desecration of the natural world, and it most certainly won't be the last. Irisarri's recording could, then, be experienced as an analogue of the natural disaster such that parallels could be drawn between the five tracks and the geographical developments in question.

“Fear and Trembling” creeps into view with some degree of quiet stealth, its ominous crackle and drone coming into earshot gradually as if to suggest the rise of some elemental force that human forces can only attempt to control and contain. The dark ambient character of the material brings with it a powerful sense of foreboding and fatalism, the slow sway of the music suggestive of the sea's relentless surge; a diseased quality emerges, too, in the blistered guitar phrases Irisarri drapes across the heaving base. The second track, “Her Rituals,” sees the crackling textures thickening into rippling masses of impermeable density, perhaps signifying the further contamination of the water and landscape. A grinding machine rhythm eventually emerges, too, drowning out the other sounds and hinting at the industrial destruction wrought by human hands. Given its mood of quiet resignation, “Daybreak Comes Soon” would appear to be a sorrowful reflection upon a state of affairs that the consuming murkiness of the closing track “Lesser than the Sum of its Parts” intimates can't easily be undone.

As mentioned, The Unintentional Sea can be heard as a programmatic work designed to capture in dark ambient-drone form the evolution of the Salton Sea project. At the same time, another listener might be inclined to regard it as a work of a generally existential character, especially when the track titles invite the association as strongly as they do.

January 2014