“I joy, that in these straits I see my west;
For, though their currents yield return to none,
What shall my west hurt me? As west and east
In all flat maps (and I am one) are one,
So death doth touch the resurrection.”
—John Donne, “Hymn to God, My God, in my Sickness”
I know next to nothing about Streights, only that they are on Albuquerque’s Featherspine Tapes label, and that “I See My West” is “an experiment in the practice of phonography (literally "sound-writing"). One track that extends beyond an hour, composed exclusively with manipulated field recordings - documenting with forensic purpose urban environments across the Western United States.” This is the only official information the label provides. Who made this? I don’t know, though they seem to have a familiarity with Jacobean poet John Donne, particularly his deathbed works. This is a very revealing clue. I don’t think it’s any coincidence, further, that the same poem from which this release (and artist) seem to be christened was as well the inspiration for J. Robert Oppenheimer naming his first nuclear weapons test ‘Trinity’. For those familiar with the history of atomic weapons, the 20 kiloton test that first harnessed the power of suns, took place on the White Sands Proving Grounds outside of Socorro, New Mexico. It is the same test that caused Oppenhiemer to remark to himself, quoting the Bhagavad Gita, “I am become death, destroyer of worlds”.
Steights’ field recording-cum-ambient piece certainly captures the sound of post-destruction landscapes. Distant church bells and disembodied voices, screeching traffic noises, industrial lurching, things that sound like traffic and commerce and airplanes, sounds freed from their corporeal sources—float above a continuing soft, lush hum of, I suppose in this analogy, nuclear ash in a continuous, pleasant fallout. But like Donne’s deathbed proclamations, there is no fear of these landscapes—they are not eerie or frightening, they are comforting, they bring about the solace of being haunted. I think what is so effective about this hour-plus track is simply that you know, in part, that this is music made from sounds we ourselves have constructed when not intending to make music, it is the reverberation of human activity. Thus the concepts of the deathbed, of embracing the singularity of experience, of seeing all humanity bleed into itself (which will especially happen in the event of a nuclear holocaust), are all adeptly explored here. In the end that is what I feel is most spectacular about the best ambient, droning music—it attempts to resonate with all of our aural experience combined—the mental images resultant are often staggeringly beautiful. Streights has, in a very intellectual way, made that connection even deeper. 8/10 -- John Ganiard (15 July, 2009)