While it’s been 32 years since the Japanese government played their “checkmate” in a 12-year struggle against the farmers of Sanrizuka and Toho – conquering countless protests and demonstrations to open a new airport over a large portion of their farming land – the tension and opposition between the two sides has continued to exist in the resultant soundscape. Air Pressure comprises entirely of two sessions of recordings from the farms in question (once during harvest 2010 and then during the sowing season of 2011). While a visual document of this situation would have aptly communicated the airport’s invasion of the old farmland, this sonic account is unique in telling of the imposition that spreads to the farmland that still remains; the sounds that extend far beyond their physical boundaries, swamping a farm soundscape characterised by its peaceful absence and humble quiet.
There are several points at which farm and airport collide head-on – the gentle click of crickets and crunch of dry plants is swamped by a monolithic whoosh of aeroplane take-off, ripping through the soundscape as a devastating flood of engine noise and air resistance. The wildlife is not only momentarily drowned out but also becomes more subdued once the plane passes, shocked into a hush by the surge of noise that rips through nature’s gently cycling sonic routines; rather than being an unwanted addition to the soundscape of the farmlands, the noise of aircraft is like a blade that saws untidily down the middle of it. Elsewhere, the airport acts as a constant hiss strung across the backdrop to the farm’s everyday activities – a ghostly exhalation of industry haunting the sowing of onion plants or the evening meals in the farmhouse kitchen.
But Air Pressure is extends beyond the observation of a political conflict, or the impact of the airport on the immediate soundscape. Aircraft noise has had a psychological impact on the farm and its occupiers, the tremors of which have been felt well into the long term. An accompanying booklet (featuring pictures of the farm, transcripts of conversations, blog posts) details a number of disturbing effects, including the increase in stillborn piglets, eggs lain with fragile shells, respiratory illness and hypertension suffered by the farmers themselves; the knowledge of this brings an additional ominous, destructive tang to the looming sonic shadows of the aeroplanes swooping overhead. The booklet also occasionally discloses the perspectives of Carlyle and Cox as explorers of sound first and foremost; there are points at which the noise of the planes is stripped of its political implications and observed solely for its sonic properties. And when taken as just sound – pure audio matter – it’s possible to derive a deep fascination and sense of awe within the colossal rush of sound, both evil and somewhat majestic.