Posts Tagged ‘inertest’

23rd September 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s a uniquely human failing that for all of our self-awareness, and our attenuation to the passage of time – in many respects, a human construct – we simply have no grasp on its passage, or its finiteness. The other day, it was February. It was cold and wet for an eternity. Spring was late. Suddenly, there was a heatwave and I was incapable of thinking or moving for a week or two. And now it’s October. How? Back in February, I had planned to pen some reflections on Michael C Coldwell’s immense Music for Documentary Film album, which collected pieces of music recorded – as the title suggests – for various film projects between 2011 and 2021, which was designed as something of a primer for the release of the soundtrack to his film, Views from Sunk Island (2021). The fact the album covered a ten-year span was significant in itself: we mark our lives out in decade segments, and reflect on those landmarks, celebrating their arrival as if this alone is an achievement – but to take a retrospective view… what have you actually done?

For every gain there are losses, and Coldwell’s ten-year compilation plays against the film it precedes, and in doing so highlights this fact. Over the ten years he’s been busy with various projects, the world has changed, and so has the coastline on the east of England.

The film – from the segments I’ve seen – is a quite remarkable work based on an exploration of the shifting – and vanishing – east coast of England with a narrative that focuses on both geography and social history, against a shifting sequence of black-and-white still images of the region. Coldwell’s images, often posted on FaceBook – are often both mundane and striking, presenting scenes where nature and human occupation sit awkwardly with one another – abandoned buildings in various states of disrepair, abandoned RAF bases and factories, crumbling concrete on sand dunes and the like.

Based in Leeds, Michael ‘Conflux’ Coldwell’s explorations are largely centred around the Yorkshire coast, and takes in numerous locations that are familiar to me, some of which hold a deep fascination. But familiarity creates its own twists when a scene is viewed from another perspective. Plus, the subject itself is one which gives rise to a nervous tension. As Coldwell writes, ‘The East Coast of the country is a land living on borrowed time. Time we borrowed from the sea, reclaimed from marshland a thousand years ago. But now it seems the sea has come to claim it all back.’

While now living in York – which has experienced flooding with greater frequency and severity over the last decade – I spent the first nineteen years of my life in Lincolnshire, a county where the local economy is dependent on fenland agriculture (and crop pickers from eastern Europe, but that’s more of a metaphorical sinking than the literal one which threatens swathes of the county). Reclamation was seemingly initiated by The Romans, and extended in the middle ages, before becoming a major project in the 17th century. But now, most of the fens lie below sea level, meaning that projections for rising sea levels as a result of climate place large parts of Lincolnshire under water by 2050, with Boston and Spalding submerged, along with Kings Lynn, Ely and Peterborough. Looking at these maps, it’s hard not to feel an unsettling sense of apocalypse. And yet, despite the accelerated pace of climate change and its impact, this is not a new story: numerous medieval towns, like Ravenser Odd, billed as the ’Yorkshire Atlantis’ , have been lost to the waves, and as Coldwell writers, ‘More than just a film score, The Phantomatic Coast stretches beyond the original aims of the documentary, to evoke something deeper about our troubled relationship with the sea – the many towns and ships lost beneath the waves, and ancient forgotten lands lying out beyond the windfarms like some Yorkshire Atlantis’.

Coldwell’s soundtrack, released as The Phantomatic Coast echoes his hauntological perspective on things, and his assimilation of found sounds and slow, quavering drones forges a layered soundtrack to an evocative journey through time and various geographical locations. Each composition is connected to a specific location, but the sounds stand alone – dissonant, difficult, haunting, constructed with layers of snippets of sound, like a newspaper collage in audio form.

As a soundwork, The Phantomatic Coast very much lives up to its title, as seagulls and crashing waves wash around. Muffled voices echo distantly on ‘On (Reclaimed) Land’ and the wind roars through ‘Scapa Flow Picnic’ like a freight train. ‘Northwest Reef Light’ is a mess of crackling distortion, fizzy returning and snippets off voices over radio against a slow, wav erring organ drone.

There is simply so much to take in, not just sonically and visually. It looks, and sounds, like the soundtrack to another life. But distance and the passage of time create a strange sense of separation from the events and a life lived. Were you even there?

Sonically, The Phantomatic Coast is an easy, soporific album, despite the five-minute ‘Diana in the Ice’ closing with a new road.