Today is the 10th anniversary of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s resignation, following 18 days of protest that were part of the region’s Arab Spring. We will recognize a host of similarly consequential 10-year anniversaries in the weeks and months ahead: the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami off the coast of Japan that led to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster; the assassination of Osama bin Laden by U.S. armed forces; and the launch of the Occupy Wall Street movement. To describe 2011 as a remarkable year is to state the obvious.
That same year, multimedia artist and writer Daniel Alexander Hignell-Tully began work on what would be a decade-long project. Constancy Blooms: An Abridged History of Rust, produced under the name Distant Animals, is made up of multiple recordings produced over the course of the last 10 years, in four different countries.
Hignell-Tully’s notes for the January release describe it as “[f]undamentally an experiment in audio collage.” It is that, but not in the cut-and-paste manner you might expect from such a varied work. Its two pieces – entitled “Outer” and “Inner” – present us with musique concrète, new classical, avant-garde jazz and electronic references, all of it decontextualized and presented as something entirely unique.
I asked Hignell-Tully about the origin of those two titles. “[They] signify the duality of the work’s premise, namely the nature of a series of site-specific works recorded at a broad range of locations out in the world, but then subject to the inner machinations of the composer as the recordings gestate, age and are funneled through the prism of my memory,” he says.
“These works were not initially intended to sit together as an album. They are more a collection of orphaned works covering a decade’s practice, drawn back together because they all explore site-specificity in one way or another. Much of my initial impetus, the compositional arcs I had been exploring, have been lost. I cannot recall what they once meant in their entirety, and they are as such reshaped by everything that has come since.”
Which is to say that this short history of rust has a great deal in common with the very slippery way in which we reminisce. Retrospection is rarely accurate. We gloss over pain and frustration. We make connections that were either unapparent or nonexistent in real time. And of course we remember much of the past as it relates to us – remembrances are often an egocentric exercise.
Hignell-Tully transforms these failings into a unifying haze of heartfelt recollections. Taking in this sometimes disorienting combination of his field recordings and performances on synthesizer, harmonium, organ, piano, percussion and sampler, John Guzek’s violin and French horn, Kev Nickells’ violin, guitar, percussion and vocals and Colin Tully’s saxophone, it’s difficult not to feel a sense of warm nostalgia.
Yes, the past is uneven. The transitions can be unsettling. But even the most difficult memories define who we are today and that is mostly good. Constancy Blooms is about growth after all. Let this new Distant Animals recording be our reminder of how fortunate we are to be able to look back.