The recordings of Schwarm were captured within a flight corridor near Frankfurt airport, which cuts through the small town of Hanau Steinheim. An image search for the town depicts a place of quaint and serene charm, with beautiful historical architecture and abundant greenery; castle turrets sprouting from behind trees, spacious and pleasant town squares. And indeed, amidst the two half-hour pieces that comprise Schwarm, I can hear evidence of this idle serenity trying to exist amidst the aircraft noise. Birdsong blooms into the air, bouncing off the idle peal of church bells and collapsing upon a bed of insect chatter. Dogs bark. Children yell playfully. It feels like summer – the sounds of nature are open and radiant, communicating with eachother across the courtyards, relishing the heat and the sunlight.
Yet the scene is fogged by the thick rush of aircraft; the crackle of planes splitting the sky open; the doppler glissando of an engine drone passing by in a prolonged, mournful moan. Instead of the church bells spilling into the open air and circulating the lanes and town squares of Hanau Steinheim, they are instantly absorbed into the cloud of noise. Birdsong is ruthlessly muffled by the murk, prevented from open conversation. Usually, these sounds are the hallmarks of a town respiring at resting state; gentle exhalations of song and chatter, wholesome intakes of idle quiet. Yet when they’re forced inhabit such an all-encompassing drone, they start to feel like probes and flares – a means of finding a way through the fog and affirming the presence of other lifeforms within it, like lighthouse beams announcing themselves dimly amidst a storm. I don’t know the extent to which Schwarm is a fabrication – whether Riek has actively transformed an occasional, passing hum into a thick and incessant sonic pollution – but the scene he depicts is one that tries its best to co-exist with the noise, persisting with the day-to-day as though deaf to the din that smothers it.