Air Can Break Your Heart was recorded, composed and produced by Anna Friz at Skálar in Seydisfjördur, East Iceland. The piece is excerpted from a longer work considering the elements of air and water entitled Two Sleeps, commissioned by Radio Arts (UK) in 2015.
I often have dreams where I try to fly by leaning backward until I'm floating just above the ground, then apply a modified breaststroke until I gain some height in a room or over a street before sinking inevitably back toward the earth to try again. This radio art piece relates such dreams of rising and falling through the fragile element of air to imagined communications and melancholic longings of waking life, where static and noise communicate potential and effort but where the desired voices and connections are tantalizingly brief or out of earshot. Air Can Break Your Heart mixes urban acoustic and radio signals, such as the hiss of outdoor gas meters or pearlescent static from the shortwave dial, together with cottage-built electronic instruments.
On her process:
The piece is about exploring the element of air and thinking about how communication and connection are longed for but sometimes missed or sometimes impossible. So there's a certain melancholic aspect to this piece that is also more about feeling than it is about a concrete linear narrative. My strategy for making the piece was to think about a kind of aural scenography - how can I mobilize the feeling of dream logic, the way that scenes very quickly change and still continue to make sense? How to make those sorts of transitions in an unusual way? And so my strategy for doing that was to look for the impulse in the sound - where was there a moment when something could change or something could suddenly modulate in an unexpected direction to change the scene. For instance a street scene with the hissing of gas meters and people walking by, to something more ethereal; this space of signals, of radio signals and attempted reception. The piece is also part of a longer piece called Two Sleeps which was commissioned by Radio Arts UK, and the second half is the element of water, so Air Can Break Your Heart really thinks about the first half of the elemental duo - the promise and the heartbreak of air.
Inspirations from inside and outside the world of radio and sound:
I loved the first season of Ear Hustle, Chris Cutler’s ongoing "Probes” series and accompanying “Auxiliaries" on Radio Web MACBA, and have been revisiting older works by Chantal Dumas. Thinking a lot about radio beacons, making work about radio beacons, thinking of animal sounds as beacons.
Honestly, I’ve hit a general media overload lately and haven’t been listening to nearly as much radio programming or recorded sound/music of any kind. My current aural joys are the glorious howls of the coyote den across the street from my apartment, and the broken pedestrian crossing signal that sounds like a wet cat.
This piece sits somewhere between music and installation. As a 'narrator', Anna's 'air' is endowed with aliveness, and palpably shifts in mood and voice throughout the piece, at times sounding almost human.
Clinging to its gliding tail, listeners catch glimpses of urban spaces. Sometimes evoking chamber music, and other times, wind, static, and other manipulated field recordings, in this piece Anna tenderly blurs the line between music and noise.
Sometimes this piece sounds dramatic - that moment before a stranger appears silhouetted in the doorway... but there is never a scare or climax, and the piece continues on to its next movement, ultimately ending in a gentle sonic reverie.
Anna Friz is a sound and media artist who specializes in multichannel radio transmission systems for installation, performance, and broadcast. Since 1998, she has created and presented new audio art and radiophonic works internationally in which radio is often the source, subject, and medium of the work. She also composes atmospheric sound works and sonic installations for theater, dance, film, and solo performance that reflect upon public media culture, political landscapes and infrastructure, time perception, the intimacy of signal space, and speculative fictions. Friz is Assistant Professor in the Film and Digital Media Department of the University of California, Santa Cruz. Hear more of her work here.