Shifting Baseline Syndrome is a phenomenon that is perpetuated when each new generation perceives the conditions in which they grow up as ‘normal’. It capitalises upon our tendency to regard current conditions against a small set of recent reference points so that we do not recognise long-term change. As each generation formulates their own new baseline, historical information can be lost, the new benchmark is established and off we go again.
The term is used in many fields but is most generally deployed in relation to environmental degradation, following the publication of a paper by fisheries scientist Dr Daniel Pauly in 1995.
I interviewed Dr Pauly for this project. Some of his words are used in the music, alongside recordings of subaqua sonar, scallop dredging and deep sea military sonar. It is increasingly noisy down there.
I have created a collection of pieces based on the notion of gentle modification and decay. In one of the pieces I degraded Dr Pauly’s voice, cutting up the speech, detuning his words but emphasising the musicality of his voice. In another piece I progressively detuned oscillators on a Moog synth to alter the harmonic basis of the music as it evolved. However, to my ears there is an accustomed ‘normality’ to the music too – simple tunes, easily digested rhythmic cells and comfortable sound worlds on top of the degradation lurking beneath. I used guitars (played by Alex Lee), harps (played by Ruth Wall) and my own Moog synths as these more customary musical instruments for sound generation.