Desert Drone Cycle: a soundscape of worlds disintegrating under water erosion

Cristopher Cichocki, Desert Drone Cycle, United States, Helen Scarsdale Agency, HMS052 cassette (2019)

Hailing from the Coachella Valley in southern California near the Mexican border, Cristopher Cichocki is an artist with fingers in many pies, working in painting, photography, video making, sound art, performance and architecture. A common theme runs through his work: it examines the cycle of decay, renewal and transformation with a particular emphasis on the ecological issues of his desert home and the pressures put upon it by current global political, social and economic trends and phenomena. Cichocki’s recorded sound art production extends at least to 2008 but this cassette released through Jim Haynes’ Helen Scarsdale Agency label may be the second released under his own name (his first being “Elemental Shift” back in 2008) though he has other solo work under the Saivus project.

Surprisingly perhaps, “Desert Drone Cycle” is not very long for a work of its sound art installation nature but it does boast density and plenty of noise variety. Chuggy, gritty and even hypnotic in its deeper lower end as Side A starts, the recording groans and grinds and blows away while recordings of trickling water and what could be rain showers cast an ever-changing, undulating sheen of fine sharp noise over the rest of the work. From then on the rain and wind dominate the recording; even the dark background seems to shimmer with the recent wetness. As the rain clouds recede, a faint moaning drone wheezes and labours in the distance. Further churning noises suggest the breakdown of machines stuck in the rain or in derelict factories whose roofs caved in decades ago.

Side B continues with more samples of rain or trickling water in a steaming bristly noise environment where it seems even the dark space is moist and quivering, and steady water erosion keeps pushing it back and back. Vibrating metal drums and stuttering industrial noise drones come to prominence here. The sounds have a rhythm all their own and while the blunted sound quality muddies the power of the noise, they have the presence of something huge, forbidding, sinister and hidden behind them. Factory equipment sounds as if it’s creaking with rust collecting in its inner cavities, and any minute the nuts and bolts will start to drop out, one by one; eventually the machines and the factory itself will collapse, if slowly.

The sound can be very muddy and the volume level needs to be quite high as some droning noises can be either faint or very low in the layer of sound textures. Though parts of the recording have quite a powerful presence, they can seem a little flat, lacking in depth. Still, the recording does have a hypnotic immersive quality, with strange creaky tones wheezing in circles, drawing your attention further into a mechanical world’s slow degradation. I really wish this cassette could have spiralled right down into that world’s disintegration, out of inquisitive curiosity to find out how the journey pans out and what might lie ahead when entropy has truly won.

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