Hadal Zone


by Žibuoklė Martinaitytė

[in search of depths....]

Featuring low-range instruments, the hour-long piece Hadal Zone (2020-2021) is an immersive sonic journey through various gradations of darkness. Low frequencies and the resulting overtones emerge as a metaphor for descending into the depths of the ocean

The Hadal Zone, named after the realm of Hades, the underworld in Greek mythology, is found in waters deep down below 6,000 meters. Scientists divide the ocean into five different zones based on depth and by the level of light that reaches them. The myth of Hades has many parallels with the deepest reaches of our oceans. They are both extremely remote and dark. Marine biologists hope to save these depths from destruction caused by global warming.

In Hadal Zone, the live instruments are combined with pre-recorded electronics incorporating an even larger variety of low range instruments — contrabassoon, contrabass clarinet and bass voices. These instruments are rarely featured on their own, but rather serve as a backbone of harmonic structures. I’m taking them into the limelight, or to say in poetic terms, “making the darkness visible.” Darkness as we perceive it is not differentiated. The same can be said for low frequencies, low vibrations of sound; what we usually hear is some indistinguishable hum or a murmur, and we mostly feel the palpable vibrations of those sounds through our body.

The brass and wind instruments utilize a lot of singing of various vowels “a, e, i, o, u” while playing to produce mysterious-sounding overtones. In combination with the lowest perceivable notes underneath, they can hint at moans and sighs of imaginary ocean creatures, or remind one of the chanting of deep voices or throat singing. Chanting has been shown to affect numerous physiological functions of the human body, and can lower the heart rate, decrease the respiratory rate and blood pressure, and calm brain waves, thus bringing the listener and the performers into a much quieter state of mind.

Hadal Zone offers a similar experience found in a concert hall, where the sense of ritual is strengthened by a semi-dark performance space and a site-specific light installation by visual artist Akvilė Anglickaitė, thus transporting listeners into more meditative states of mind. Drones of long sustained tones with a myriad of subtle timbral changes, slow structural shifts and sung vowels layered on top suggest repetitive mantras heard from afar and then up close. The variety in sonic perception is achieved through the intentional choices of specific vowels and their sequences, as well as the intervallic relationship between the singing note and the played pitch. In a way, this usage of vowels and consonants precedes language, thus bringing up the association of being in the womb and lulling us into a deeply submerged subconscious state.

Hadal Zone consists of multiple sections that are played without interruption. Interspersed with transitional episodes, the main sections of the piece are titled after the ocean zones:

I. Epipelagic (sunlight/surface to 660 ft)

II. Mesopelagic (twilight/660 ft to 3,300 ft)

III. Bathypelagic (midnight/3,300 ft to 13,000 ft)

IV. Abyssopelagic (lower midnight/13,000 ft to the ocean floor)

V. Hadopelagic (hadal zone/below 20,000 ft)


Contemporary Music Ensemble Synaesthesis:

Marta Finkelštein (piano)

Arnas Kmieliauskas (cello)

Donatas Butkevičius (double bass)

Artūras Kažimėkas (clarinet)

Simonas Kaupinis (tuba)

Curator: Marta Finkelštein
Light instalation concept: Akvilė Anglickaitė
Light design: Paulius Varonenka

Manager: Goda Pereckaitė

Sound Engineer: Dovydas Kiela
Producer: Contemporary Ear

Financed by Lithuanian Culture Council, Vilnius Municipality, Lithuanian Culture Ministry

video by Kristijonas Dirsė