The Lake that Glimmers Like Fire (2021)

Twelve times a day, the squeaks, wheezes, and whistles from a freight train can be heard through and beyond this northern edge of Sápmi. Every year, 26.9 million tons of crude ore are torn from the ground in Kiruna. Each of these twelve daily transports from Kiruna to Narvik carries 8,600 tons of that ore. Twelve times a day, the land shakes. Its soundscape reverberates the noise, carrying its echoes further and further, eventually delivering the message into the cavities of the ore's close and distant relatives, hard schist and dolomite limestones. The soundscape of the purest lake in Sweden is far from pure. To give it a proper hearing, one has to retrace the trails that the history, heavily orchestrated by human interests, engraved in the air, soil, water, bodies, and spirits.

The Lake that Glimmers Like Fire (Rissajaure, in Sami language) is a soundwalk composition and performance developed for the shore of Trekanten lake in Stockholm. This performative soundwalk builds on a series of listening and recording sessions undertaken in, around, and with two Swedish lakes: Trekanten in Stockholm and Rissajaure in the Swedish Arctic Circle. While the former has been described as historically one of the most polluted lakes in the country, the latter often figures as the clearest and purest one. The soundwalk attempts to establish a dialog between those two entities at once bound by a solid natural kinship and torn apart by human noises and interests. This partly improvised and partly pre-composed soundwalk guides listeners around Trekanten while opening up to soundscapes and histories of its arctic relative. While speculating about silence as, on the one hand, an indicator of death and, on the other, a prospect of life, this soundwalk is above all an exercise in attentive listening to complex and often irreconcilably unsound relations between human and natural histories of our earthly environments.

After lending wireless headphones, I take participants for a walk along the shore of Trekanten, which takes about 45 minutes. While walking, they listen to a soundscape composition based on field recordings from the region of Rissajaure in the Arctic Circle. Simultaneously, I fold present soundscapes of Trekanten into the composition through various live recording techniques and microphones (for example hydrophones, electromagnetic and ultrasound detectors). This gradually evolving collage concludes with a performance in which Trekanten's depth becomes strangely sonorous. I dip self-made hydro-speakers in the lake while broadcasting sounds from its Arctic relative. Filtered through Trekanten's water, the sounds are captured via hydrophones and broadcast back to participants' headphones. At the end of the performance, participants receive an envelope with an essay to be read at home. It poetically articulates the context of the soundscapes they just listened and walked through while also posing questions concerning the reliance of field recording practices on extractive industries.

This soundwalk is part of my international postdoctoral artistic research funded by the Swedish Research Council and anchored at the Department of Culture and Society at Linköping University in Sweden. The project explores the history, present and future of soundwalking and field recording practices in the context of arts, environmental humanities, and philosophy of technology. The project was developed during my research visit to the Abisko Scientific Research Center in August 2021.

Many thanks to the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat and SITES for the support of the work.

The piece was premiered within Open Studio for Research into Movement and Creativity organized by Flat Octopus collective at Färgfabriken gallery in Stockholm, September 24, 2021.

Script, field recordings, soundscape compositions, design, production, editing and photography by Jacek Smolicki.

Thanks to Juanma González from Flat Octopus collective in Stockholm.

Fragments of the soundscape composition featured in the 'Lake that Glimmers Like Fire' soundwalk piece

Photo by Opiemme

Photo by Juanma Gonzalez

Photo by Opiemme

Photo by Opiemme