Review: Lasse-Marc Riek – Helgoland

Despite Helgoland being blown up in 1947 and serving as a training site for British bombers in the years after, birds have since become a triumphantly present sonic life force on the island. In fact it’s one of the most bird-dense spots in the whole of Europe, and sure enough, Riek’s collection of field recordings from the island bustles with squawks and whines that bleat aggressively in the foreground and haunt the distant horizon on mass, babbling over and amongst the tides that bubbles on Helgoland’s perimeter like a thick, reactive potion.

No one knows how the birds survived the island’s obliteration in the 40s and 50s, and some of the finest parts of the collection exhibit not the intricate makeup of each bird call in turn, but portray the birds as an immortal swarm; those moments that lose the definition of the individual to shift focus onto the awesome power of the relentless chorus, as an impersonal cloud that silence has no hope of infiltrating. One cannot fathom how such a formidable wall of sound – one comprised of hundreds of tiny falsetto stabs and glissando slurps – could ever be penetrated, let alone hushed.

Latter tracks introduce the cries of grey seals, whose pitch range disturbingly close to that of the human voice in distress. In particular, the groans of the pups sound like the calls of a lost child– a lone character lost in a flock of ocean spray and waves of mysterious and eclectic birdsong, trapped on an island of imposing and rather eerie sonic personality.