A unique ambient essay that examines the Suffolk coastline through critical theory.
On Vanishing Land is a 40-minute narration of a walk Barton and Fisher took along the Suffolk coast. It also includes snippets from interviews they conducted that introduce themes of long-lost societies and the machinations of capital to the piece's main subject: the idea of the eerie. These voices accompany an ambient score that features contemporary experimental musicians such as Gazelle Twin, Raime, Skjølbrot, Baron Mordant and Ekoplekz. But unless you're familiar with the artists' hallmarks, it won't likely be clear whose music is playing when.
On Vanishing Land's connection to Hyperdub is also notable. Kode9 published Fisher's writing before he put out any club music records, back when Hyperdub was a webzine focused on theoretical speculations on British rave around the turn of the '00s. Before that, Kode9 and Fisher worked together as members of Warwick University's Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (CCRU), a radical collective that speculated on an end to capitalism without and beyond traditional materialism.
These links between critical theory, experimental art and rave culture existed long before On Vanishing Land's release, and yet the occasions when dance music deals directly with Fisher's legacy are still some of the only times when the subject of class explicitly enters our scene's increasingly political conversations. That makes this release significant beyond its value as a work of art.
Granted, On Vanishing Land comes off a bit daunting at first. While Fisher was exalted for making complex ideas simple to understand, this piece still feels a bit rarified due to its references to Enlightenment-era philosophers and British turn-of-the-century ghost stories. The title, though, is a play on perhaps the most accessible reference: Brian Eno's 1982 album On Land.
But Fisher, who once complained that "PhD work bullies one into the idea that you can't say anything about a subject until you've read every possible authority on it," would have probably encouraged you not to put so much pressure on listening to this thing. It's just words and sound. You can tune in and out and still get a sense of the ideas he and Barton are thinking through—the high-tech veneer of a modern society founded upon violence and maintained by brutal exploitation, or the eerie feeling we get when we start to sense things that were at first obscured. The music underscores these themes and helps highlight particularly poignant moments, which lets your attention ebb and flow.
When the narrator describes the sight of concrete structures along the beach, built to "prevent the land from being swept away by the sea," a rumbling sound-shadow starts to overtake the clear tones of melancholic, long-release keys that waxed and waned for minutes prior. Over the dark grumbles, the voice somberly recounts the history of Dunwich, a port town that once served as a capital in the Suffolk coast region before it was wiped away by erosion centuries ago. It's moments like these when the conceptual, musical and literary themes embedded in On Vanishing Land work together to present something profound but ultimately easy to grasp.