Whenever I’m travelling by plane, I only acknowledge the sheer volume of my soundscape when I try to listen to music over headphones. I find myself maxing out the volume on my phone to allow the music to protrude out of the din. At this point, I’ll often take a moment to switch off my music and just listen. For the first time since take-off, I consciously hear the amassment of airflow and engines and cabin noise and conversation, all of which seem to press against the sides of my head. The noise of the aircraft is relentless. Inescapable. On a podcast I listened to recently, one of the hosts shared his solution for shutting out noisy passengers on planes: putting on noise-cancelling headphones and listening to a loop of simulated aircraft cabin sounds. Apparently, the closest thing to tranquillity on a plane is a smothering, albeit constant, barrage of white noise.
On Aerodynamics, Morten Poulsen recreates this experience using hand-crafted synthesisers and guitar FX pedals. He taps into that sensation of being blanketed by the din, as a soft static throbs in the mid frequencies. He mimics those engine accelerations at take-off: that rush of whistling air, filling up my ears as the strain on the motors increases, gathering the power necessary to undertake the climactic task of launching the plane into the sky. Where some sections emulate the larger, more muffled sound of commercial passenger jets, the others capture the experience of flying in a small propeller plane, placing the listener in unnerving proximity to the mechanisms that keep gravity at bay: the buzz and rattle of motors and loose metal panels, the tiny falters and jumps that signal changes in air density and wind.
I listened to Poulsen’s record over headphones first, but it was when I moved Aerodynamics to speakers that all my air travel experiences started rushing back. One of the more notable aspects of flying is how human conversation is reduced to tinny wisps of voice, as the mid frequencies are flattened by the sounds of transport in action. Sure enough, as I blast the record across my living room and try to talk over it, my voice is squashed into that unmistakable rasp, like a hornet riding the currents of cabin clamour. But the most potent quality of this release is how Poulsen manages to strike upon the great paradox of plane sounds – how the noise makes us feel safe by bringing us into greater intimacy with the processes we’d rather not think about, cocooning us in the mechanics that keep everything in the air.