By: Mikko A.
Ten years ago, I wrote about both of these things on Special Interests forum. Still today, I keep thinking about this book and pick it up from shelves and browse it. Totally unique. During the years, also ”Quiet North” CD by Lasse Marhaug has visited my CD player once in a while.
I can no longer remember how I actually discovered Still Life: Inside the Antarctic Huts of Scott and Shackleton book. It was shortly after it came out. I must have seen few sample images or read about it, and placed order by gut feeling rest would be good. When book arrived, I was blow away by its presentation. It is all what one could hope for, when you buy art book. Cover, technical aspects how its done, is not merely mass product from paperback production-line. Instead, it is object that captures the tactile feel of what content has inside. Cover itself, but also multiple panel panorama images to be found within book. Only thing you could hope for, is the smell of antarctic huts!
We’re talking about hundreds of A4 pages, in hardcover, with special cloth design attached to front cover. All in full color, but in the best possible tonality! It is somewhere between the contemporary and vintage photography. Images are pretty sharp and colors are little bit artificially colored/improved looking. Yet, it is so damn well done too. Tastefully done in bleak arctic cold colors. Nothing is brightly colorful, but toned into bleak cold atmosphere.
Even if landscape and normal interior photos of the huts that may be something you find online make you think it’s just “normal” nice photobook, this is not all it has. It is little different. Vast majority of the book is comparable to harsh noise recordings: Utmost texture studies of various objects & settings. Jane Ussher doesn’t just take photos of “room”, but has almost fetishistic focus on every small object and elements. Be it macro-photo of rusty safety-pin, or frozen & torn loop of old rope. Rusty tin can surfaces and worn out labels. Broken penguin eggs. Penguin carcasses. Animal carcasses hanging from hooks for ages, but mummified in the cold dry weather.
Not only the meat intended for food, but also half mummified frozen dog. Pet that’s been dead for decades century?! Skulls, jars, boxes, etc.
It all plays with colors and textures of freezing, corrosion, damage and decay. She doesn’t seem to take a pressure of creating photos that would all individually stand out due some extreme technical quality or extremely unusual target. This thick book enables a flood of massive amount of eye-candy. It is really about photo-book as a whole. Not about individual piece framed on wall. There are no people in this book. It all simply delivers the abandoned ghost-house feeling. The only actually living thing seen in the book is large amount of penguins far away in distance.
At the turn of the 20th century Antarctic explorers set off from their huts in search of adventure, science, and glory, yet the men faced mostly miserable death in these extreme conditions. Englishmen made it to the center of antarctis, only to discover that Norwegian explorers had made it there few weeks earlier. To play while browsing this book, one could select LASSE MARHAUG “the quiet north” CD (Second Layer 2010).
Lasse is the guy who is not exclusively focused on doing noise, but when he does, he is able to do absolutely hardest of harsh noise. The Quiet North is no way harsh noise wall, despite it is one solid half an hour blast created of fairly limited and seemingly singular sound palette. What there is, is restless harsh noise. There are no cut ups. There are no changes what comes to overall spectrum of sound. It is non-stop blasting of brutally saturated harsh noise. It goes on.
As opposed to plenty of regular wall noise minimalists one have been hearing over more than decade now, this isn’t THAT. This is more of what harsh noise wall was understood to be, before it was separated into subgenre itself. This is just plain old good noise. Also due very traditional equipment set up: Guitar, metal objects and pedals. Lasse is incredibly talented in what he does. Despite movement of piece is restricted to something which I may assume to be table with gear, but nothing more gigantic or diverse as source, it is going forward all the time. New elements are flowing in or should I say, new slightly different sounds or sources bombard you from all directions. Perhaps that is exaggeration to say all the directions? Depending how you listen to this, but especially with earphones,. It seems as is the mass of distortion is nearly double-mono. There is sense of being wide and ”stereo”, yet in other hand, same thing happening in both channels? However, often there is key element, almost as if lead instrument role of noise, that sits perfectly in middle of mix.
Sound is incredibly distorted and saturated. There is zero echo or reverb, or effects beyond pure distortion. Often sound is so square sound wave sounding, as if you could feel the sharpness of sound waves. You can still hear many details there. If you are familiar with what guitar can be, when it is not meant to sound like guitar, you will know it is there. 30 minutes is good length for this. Even 20 minutes would have done it. If it was longer than this, I would have probably started to demand artist to stepping outside the frame of track, and do more drastic changes. To change the whole spectrum of sounds and so on. Now, it’s not necessary. 1 piece, 30 minutes. It’s everything else but “quiet north”, but it is relative.
This sound is basically equivalent for STILL LIFE book scenery. So dry, so hard, so crispy. The coldness and hostility is not humane expression. It is not malignant or evil, it is just the nature of environment that is challenging and difficult for any human to flourish, or even exist! You can feel the biting hardness of every grain of distortion, total void of any neat and stylish effects or edits.
Still Life: Inside the Antarctic Huts of Scott and Shackleton