This is an unedited excerpt from To The Cooling Tower, Satsop released by GD Stereo on compact disc as part of their Improvisational Architecture series.
To the Cooling Tower, Satsop documents my journey through a tunnel beneath an aborted nuclear power station.
Designed to deliver water to cool the reactor core, the tunnel is long; it took me the length of the album, about 44 minutes, to enter and exit.
Much of the tunnel is a perfect tube, however the occasional turning passageway, pools of water, debris, and unexpected vestibules contribute to the unusual acoustics heard in To the Cooling Tower, Satsop. Sounds near and far reverberate, smear, and echo.
My movement through this architecture co-composes the soundscape. Presence becomes performance: With eyes often shut, I walk through the tunnel. Performing blind belays most of the habits I have developed with other instruments and ideas as an improvisor. With no light, I cannot know how the tunnel – My instrument? My collaborator? – will change, or even where I and the passage ahead will go.
Wanting a flashlight for a mere moment reminds me that darkness, nighttime, “the dark,” shadows, and even the poetic adjective umbral deceptively connote mystery, the unknown, fear, the Other, menace, and evil, as if “to see is to know.” To those who listen, darkness becomes a place of discovery, an aurally radiant invitation to re-listen and remap the world.
So I navigate (bypass, stumble over, probe, kick, step on, jab, echolocate) obstacles and small dangers with focused listening. My ears map the walls, the floor, the ceiling. I listen to the drones ahead and what flutters behind. Detecting changes in air pressure, my eardrums bend as oxygen thins. Sounds feel different inside and against me. This tunnel has an architectural, acoustic pulse.
To the Cooling Tower, Satsop embodies my notion of phonography: Vivid, possibly transformative field recordings made in unpredictable locations, amid accidents, and by often unorthodox means in tandem with an open embrace of the recordist’s presence – all crucial components in the urgent quest towards new ways of listening.
– excerpted from my essay “A Length of Sound” slated for the book “Sonic Contestations of Nuclear Power.” Skyward photo of WNP-5 at Satsop also by CD.
full recording available at satsop