The MoKS Residency
An article by Jay-Dea Lopez
During November-December 2013 I had the privilege of staying at the MoKS residency in the small village of Mooste, Estonia. This part of the world was only known to me through the recordings and words of John Grzinich yet the sounds presented by him were unique enough to pique my interest.
After almost 12 months of saving the money needed to fly out of Australia (and having gained the strength to sit in the economy section for nearly 30 hours) I boarded the plane to Estonia with a set of goals and targets. I especially wanted to record the sounds of a northern European winter landscape: the sounds of ice cracking, snow falling, microscopic life forms burrowing beneath the frozen earth – all of these being absent from my own sub-tropical region in Australia.
I also hoped to be granted a space in which I could work undisturbed on a number of projects not related to Estonia. To borrow a phrase from Virginia Woolf I imagined myself having “a room of one’s own”, a creative space free from the demands of work and other distractions.
I will admit that before my arrival I needed to educate myself about Estonia. There were little things to learn such as its location on a map; the food (did the thousands of images of blood sausage mean that as a vegan I would starve to death … and therefore avoid the 30 hour flight back home?); homophobia (did its close proximity to Russia mean that the locals would chase after me with pitchforks?).
Upon my arrival it turned out that these were to be the least of my concerns. My luggage with my recording equipment and warm clothes were lost in transit (thanks Air Berlin!) so my first experience in Estonia was to fill in a lost luggage claim at Tallinn airport at midnight. Although I was slightly MORTIFIED at the time it did allow me the opportunity to wander around Tallinn without feeling the pressure to record anything. I felt uneasy about how much I was enjoying not recording anything, as if I were not a true field recorder. Oh well.
Days later at the Mooste residency (reunited with my now slightly battered luggage, thanks again Air Berlin) I realised that my recording objectives needed to be reassessed. Due to a late winter in Estonia there was a lack of thick snow and ice. What I had hoped to record simply didn’t exist. This meant that my microphones needed to be directed towards other sound-sources. Turning from the natural world I instead focussed on the telecommunications infrastructure within the village of Mooste. It was with these objects that I filled my time at MoKS.
Massive towers dominate Mooste’s skyline – their support cables vibrate at a frequency that would go unheard if not for the placement of contact microphones on their metal bodies. The cables hum hypnotically, eternally, providing an experience that is uniquely exhilarating and disturbing. Local farmers watched (suspiciously?) from a distance. I fumbled nervously with the microphone cables.
The ease of access to these sounding objects was a highlight of my stay in Mooste. Listening to them filled me with wonder at the unexpected tones that can occur when the natural elements interact with the manufactured; I learned the value of listening within the moment without a sense of anticipation; I was also filled with admiration towards the technology that has made this type of listening and recording possible.
Although living in Mooste wasn’t always easy the majority of my experiences made the time and expense to get there worthwhile. Field recordings made during my residency can be listened to here.