Swedish composer and visual artist Carl Michael von Hausswolff (father of the most excellent Anna von Hauswolff) and Sigur Rós’ Jónsi are Dark Morph, a collaboration that sees them record the sounds of the deep ocean. Dark Morph II, their cunningly titled second release, was developed on board the Dardanella, an expedition yacht which serves as a platform fostering the intersection between art and science.
The first track is a near 20-minute slice of ocean life called “Dive In” which was created to accompany SUPERFLEX’s art installation of the same name. Taken out of context, with no visual reference points, “Dive In” is initially enigmatic and eerie. Wonderment at the clarity of the underwater recording is part of the listener’s response, and there is an oscillating thrum and feel which pleases the senses, yet the sheer length of the track/piece/soundscape soon means the novelty wears off long before its half way point.
No doubt many will find an endearing quality to the presentation of such sounds, but it is an arduous task to sit through the whole thing in one go. I’m not short on patience or enjoyment in ambient sounds, but there is a certain deep-seated visceral or cognitive reaction that art should provoke, whereas this is mere aesthetic pleasantness and I can personally well do without, thanks very much. It’s like describing someone as “nice” when all that really means is that they have nothing about their personality to hang an opinion on.
Dark Morph II continues with “Humpback Whale Choir” which is… yes, you’ve guessed it from those clues! The mewling sounds of whales overlaying one another, vying for attention and focus. If you can imagine the sound of whales then you know what to expect here. There is no tangible presence of the artists, just the sound of the natural world, which is disappointing. Whale song carries the burden of association with really dodgy “medical” advice from people who talk far too softly – not the fault of the whales, it must be said – and it creeps me out a bit as a result. The sounds presented on “Humpback Whale Choir” do nothing to allay that.
The final track, “Dark Wave”, is a huge relief when it comes. A combination of recordings of the deep, ghostly distorted voices and a banging techno backbone produce something akin to conceived work, not just a microphone plonked into the water (as impressive a scientific feat as that may be). It’s a brooding track and highlights the missed opportunity of Dark Morph II as a whole. There is a tension here that puts it entirely at odds with the rest of the album, the shadows of humanity eclipsing the natural placid beauty of the oceans. As a statement of the damage we are doing to the world’s ecosystems it’s not bad, but perhaps a little too obtuse.
As a curiosity, Dark Morph II is relatively interesting on first listen, though it would be difficult to conceive of a need to revisit the album in its entirety more than once. “Dark Wave” is a perfectly serviceable track, but the lasting feeling that you get from the album is that you want less wildlife and more human engagement and interaction.