For reasons that I don’t fully understand, for a significant proportion of lockdown I found myself drawn to the sea. Initially this was a strange feeling: in my mind’s eye I imagined the tranquillity of sunsets over rippling waves, the coolness of ocean spray and the scent of water in constant motion, but I was also reminded of how stressful I would find trips to the beach as a child – the embarrassment of changing into and out of swimming shorts under a towel, the uncomfortable feeling of sand between my toes and a sense of intense boredom that manifested itself, conservatively, seventeen minutes into a day by the sea. Nevertheless, the idea of the sea won out, and as soon as lockdown eased slightly, I took myself to the Cornish coast, to where I now find myself temporarily relocated.
Swiss-based electronic artist Rupert Lally’s latest album, Marine Life, also concerns itself with the sea, perhaps representing an emotive, wistful nod in the direction of his childhood growing up in Brighton. Across six deeply ambient pieces, Lally evokes both the calm quietude and intense volatility of the water. Taking together processed, degraded samples of orchestras and overlaying those with choral samples and plaintive synth accents, Lally has assembled a suite of sounds that drift gently between the acoustic and the electronic.
Pieces like ‘Deceptively Calm’ or ‘Shimmering Waves’ have a muted drama, an evolving pattern of beatific drones and constant cycles of minor crescendos smothered in a sort of hypnotic, though-provoking serenity. Like the ocean, what appears still on the surface might hide a restless, dangerous turbulence that prevails beneath; Lally’s work on Marine Life is sensitive to both, simultaneously carrying a reflectiveness but also a respect for the water and its latent, unpredictable power, best exemplified by a sequence of fluctuating discordancies on the title track.
A sense of danger floats to the choppy surface on ‘High Speed Crossing’ and the submerged pulse of ‘Diving Bell’, the former progressing on a submerged motorik rhythm that sounds like the close-up recording of a boat engine, and the latter on an unswerving sweeping sound reminiscent of sonar. These two pieces seem to symbolise, for me, mankind’s fragile relationship with the water and its untameable nature. I also found myself pondering how our continual disrespect for the natural order of the oceans have jeopardised the delicate ecosystem that it represents, feeling anxious about what overfishing, oil spills, engine emissions and plastic waste have done to those who call it home.
I found myself listening to Marine Life with the sound of seagulls chattering outside the Velux windows in the space I have commandeered for writing and reflection while I find myself here in Cornwall. It was a moment of natural, unexpected symbiosis that felt like it was completely in tune with the powerfully introspective yet elegiac tonalities of Lally’s latest work.
Marine Life by Rupert Lally is released September 21 2020 by Glass Reservoir in a limited edition of 50 CDs.
Words: Mat Smith. With thanks to Grant Wilkinson.
(c) 2020 Further.