Unindenitfied Mind
(2023) is a 5 minute audio composition in collaboration with the Antarctic Ice Shelf, a reimagined composition from an intriguing field recording made by the Alfred Wegener Institutue’s PALAOA observatory (PerenniAL Acoustic Observatory in the Antarctic Ocean) 71°S 008°W.

Many sounds which are recorded by PALAOA, cannot be identified by scientists. Often it is not even possible to tell if the sounds originate from animals or if they’re abiotic. The original recording that is the foundation of Unidentified Mind displays a mysterious, long, low-pitched sound without known origin. Scientists were only able to verify that this particular sound was recorded when no ship was present within a radius of 1000 km. 

The ‘unidentified sound 033’ of PALOA is harmonized with, its sounder becoming a co-player in a ‘beyond-the-human’, cosmomusicological improvisation.

To listen to both the original recording from AWI and the reimagined sound link to the project website and, in the search folder, type ‘Mind’ to isolate the tracks.  

“There exist other kinds of thinking selves beyond the human” - Eduardo Kohn, How Forests Think

One of the instrumental figures in bringing the music of the drone to the West is the Sufi musician Hazrat Inayat Kahn. His musical treatise from the early 20th century, simply titled Music, is an incredible sonic-spiritual composition on the potentials and possibilities of music as law, as cosmology, as harmony. “Music is behind the whole working of the universe”, the Sufi Master wrote, “We live and move and have our being in music”.

In contemplating natures music, in finding ears to hear it, a body to feel and dance it, a mind to celebrate and (re)think it, and -all together- a spirit to create it, I fatefully encountered this incredible ‘unidentified sound #1’ from AWI’s PALAOA observatory in Antarctica through the Cities and Memory project. This strange, long, low frequency drone from somewhere in the Antarctic Ocean has an unknown origin. Is it from a creature? From water? From some geological feature? A nearby machine or ship? All that is known about the origin of this sound is that no ship was within a thousand km radius when it was recorded. What we can say for certain is that it is a subaquatic sounding of Earth, of universe, captured expertly and offered for us here to resonate with, to find resonance in the unknown of the sonosphere.

When I first heard recording 033, I immediately felt that it was already so beautifully strange that it required only very little to elicit its charms. I only wanted to amplify its qualities, saturate its mysteries. Considering it as a vocalization of Earth I simply play along with it, in amity and community. To get there, I put myself into a trance through a listening meditation and recognize the sounder. I reflect the sound multiply into the eternal of drone. I play back to the sounder an image of itself that is also me.

This track operates as an attentional strategy for rediscovering ourselves in the more-than-human world.

Water, amongst other things, is a specifically acoustic environment. Sound travels faster than light in water, and whale song is thought to produce holographic ‘images’ within the mind of the ancient creatures as they communicate with one another across vast distances. Creatures both aquatic and terrestrial use sound as a form of sight: sonar. If we consider this ‘sonic sight’ in an expanded sense, then when I deeply listen to this sound, I am, in a sense, recognized by it, or whatever emanates it. In coming to witness one another -over time- we come to recognize each other, we co-compose. In that unspeakable recognition between myself and the sound, I believe we have a camaraderie, we are in, of, and as the thought(s) of the world (beyond the human).

If you take a look at the wave/sonogram of this composition, you will see an audio Rorschach figure swimming or flying out of the vibration. This has to do partly with the way the structure of the composition was prepared: first playing the original recording backwards (to get to know it better), and then forwards. In that reflection between the polar edges of the Earth and my Farfisa (an electric organ) I acknowledge and celebrate mystery as mystery. I find solace in what is immeasurable, intangible, uncertain. It is there in the musicality of resonant Earth that the radical plurality and multiplicity of worlds and thought resides and resounds in a relational dynamic that exists beyond experience.

© All images are copyright Jol Thoms. Texts copyright Jol Thoms and the respective authors.