Cole Peters
Sound & visual artist

A Stable Means of Degradation

Album (cassette & digital),
released 2021/07 by Grisaille

Stream and purchase on Bandcamp →

A Stable Means of Degradation is an album shaped by my readings on deep time and our species’ place within it.

Deep time describes the history and processes of the Earth at geologic timescales — not tens or hundreds of years, but thousands, millions, billions. I began reading about deep time in early 2020, drawn to the topic by a heightened sense of the precariousness and smallness of human life — a sense endemic to that year.

I began taking long walks in nature that summer, in part to escape the monotony of lockdowns and isolation, and in part because walking helps me think, and concepts like geologic timescales gave me a lot to think about. As I walked my way through these thoughts, I began to examine my surroundings — trees, rocks, the incursions and detritus of human industry — with a newfound sense of awe and temporal scale. I also started recording the sounds they made.

These field recordings — made with a small recorder (a Zoom H1N with stereo mics), a contact microphone, and an electromagnetic receiver — form the bulk of the prerecorded source material for this album. The sole exception to this is the opening of the first track, ‘Remnant’; for this, I sourced and processed a minute of sound from a documentary film on glaciers.

Many of the recordings I made are mixed into the compositions in their raw form; others, I processed live on my Octatrack, sometimes as subtle variations, sometimes as substantial mutations. By working with these recordings in different ways, I hoped to echo how their subjects — once familiar and seemingly ‘known’ — had come to feel altogether different.

To contrast and reinforce the field recordings, I worked with an Analog 4 to produce a shifting, foundational layer of bass and sub bass across the album. With this, I attempted to sonify the impression left on me by Robert Macfarlane’s writing on geologic processes: ‘When viewed in deep time, things come alive that seem inert. Ice breathes. Rock has tides. Mountains ebb and flow. Stone pulses.’

The tracks were mastered by Jeremy Bible, whose work clarified and enhanced so much of what I was aiming for with this material. This album would not feel so viscerally alive without his time and expertise.

The phrase ‘a stable means of degradation’ is derived from Eric D. Schneider and Dorion Sagan’s ‘Into the Cool’, where it is used to describe the thermodynamic function of life within the universe. This description (and the larger discussion of life within the field of non-equilibrium thermodynamics) reads, to me, as one both fascinating and poetic — a recognition of life as distinct in deep time, yet consistent with and emergent from the processes which give rise to it.