Mark Peter Wright

The following text is reproduced from handwritten notes that were found within a dilapidated structure. They appear to detail the last known traces of an as yet unidentified wildlife sound recordist.

I will do my best to recall the circumstances that have led me to this point. I stand amongst a scene I can barely believe. My reflection no longer belongs to me. Soon I fear it will be too late to even speak.

I arrived here a week ago to record the sound of cicadas. Conditions were sweltering from the start. I spent days out in the long grass under burning heat, capturing the sounds of neocicada hieroglyphica, cacama valvata, tibicen canicularis, tibicen resonans and many more. I would sit in the field for hours happily listening to the high frequency buzz of insects. The work required stillness and quiet on my part, as to not encroach upon the recording. I tried to be invisible and inaudible. I was a silent listener immersed in a world of nature I have now come to fear. 

I took what was essentially a hobby very seriously. My recordings were frequently deposited in archives and used for research or artistic purposes. With the days work done I would return to my makeshift home-studio, have dinner and hurriedly begin the playback and cataloguing process for the duration of that evening, archiving and grading each recording one by one in order to preserve the sounds for future use.

It was systematic work done in the dimly lit confines of my purpose built abode. I broke up the monotony of cataloguing by manipulating and layering certain sounds into compositions. Nature was as musical as it was scientific. I would listen to my animal orchestra until I drifted asleep. How I long for those nights amidst the wreckage of my current mind state. 

This routine went on. Long days in the field with immersive nights listening back to recordings. My memory is cloudy now, but I remember things began to change one evening when I awoke from a nightmare. The dream was unique in that it appeared to contain sound alone. An unidentifiable heavy breathing crackled and howled in the most terrifying of ways. It produced an abysmal feeling of solitude in me coupled with an overwhelming presence of someone, or something.

Gasping out of sleep I sat up in bed and noticed a patch of dry blood on the pillow. I panicked and checked my body but nothing, not even a scratch. I ran my hands over my face and stopped as I touched a clotted knot of hair near my temple. I got out of bed and walked haphazardly to the mirror. The blood seemed to be coming from my left ear. “Strange” I thought, “how on earth could that have happened?” It was extremely painful to touch and felt as though something had been gnawing at my cochlear. After rinsing my hair and cleaning the blood away I managed to ignore the throbbing pain and gradually drifted back to sleep. 

Dawn came and blistering heat pierced through the windows. After coffee and a quick bite to eat I picked up my equipment and opened the door for another day of recording. I didn’t notice at first but gradually, as I made my way towards the site, just 100 feet from base, I realised something was missing. “Where had all the cicadas gone?” I couldn’t hear their usual incessant noise. I clicked my fingers next to my ears. There was nothing wrong there. I sat for hours on end waiting for the cicadas to stridulate. The heat became more and more pressing as the fatigue of waking from the nightmare took over. I drifted in and out of sleep amongst the gentle sway of the breeze. 

I came too with a sudden exhale; my ear began to cause huge irritation. Raising my hand, I felt a sticky, puss-like liquid on the lobe. I pressed a finger into the ear cavity and jumped out of my skin as a high screeching sound ricocheted around my skull, releasing a pain that registered in my teeth. Startled and anxious I hurriedly packed up the equipment and made my way back to my lodgings where I fell into another deep slumber.

I awoke in the dark, unsure of the time. Feeling disorientated, I decided to listen back to recordings from the previous day, hoping they would reassure my confused state. I set up the laptop and played a file at random. No sound was there. I played another file and again, no audible sign of the cicadas. My ear burned as I clicked on wav file after wav file. I couldn’t hear the sounds I knew I had captured from previous days. I frantically switched views and begin to analyse the visual spectrogram. None of the usual hi staccato imprints that epitomized cicada song were apparent. There was however, a ghostly marking throughout the recording. The cicadas may not have been there but something certainly was. I began isolating frequencies where I thought the inaudible content existed and boosted the volume, moving my chair closer towards one of the speakers. 

A faint, slow rhythmical sound filtered through the air. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. I placed my good ear gently against the speaker cone membrane and then suddenly amongst the hiss of amplification I realised what I could hear – it was the sound of my own breath. 

Fear streamed through my veins like never before. Panic swirled around me. I stumbled backwards from the speaker. Both ears now throbbed as a breath, my breath, emanated outwards, growing louder and louder. I felt a sharp piercing pain pour through my left ear again. I ran to the laptop to stop the file but it wouldn’t end. I unplugged the power and all I could hear was my breath pulsing louder and louder in a terrifying cascade that swamped the room. I began hyperventilating as I noticed the speakers seemed to be physically swelling with every pulsating breath. I crashed into a box of notes sending them spiraling through the air and I as turned, struck my head on the glass light bulb that dangled from the ceiling. 

I don’t know how long had passed before I came too, drenched in sweat. There was no sound and I was glad. Daylight splintered its way through the window. I picked myself up and walked towards the small refrigerator for some water, trampling over broken glass and paper notes. I felt a tug at my ankle and fell to the floor. For a brief moment I was sure something began dragging me backwards. Sat upright I raised a tired laugh as I fathomed audio cable had spiraled around my leg. Tripping me up yes, dragging me back, surely not?

Over the following days strange incidents continued. I walked outside and again, no cicada sounds passed through the air. Had I done something to affect them? During the nights I couldn’t bring myself to listen back to the recordings for fear of hearing that dreadful noise. 

Things began to escalate. A microphone momentarily grafted itself into my hand; I had to tear it away, breaking the skin of my palm. I woke up with cables wrapped around my legs. They became impossible to remove. In my growing delusion I cut one that was attaching itself around furniture and to my horror, a strange liquid oozed from it. Exhaustion grew. I lost everything. Sleep, dreams, heat and utterances took over. Life became a waking nightmare; my sanity escaped the room. I stopped going outside for fear that something was going to take over my body. Now I know that it was already here, in this room and in me, all this time. 

{Five pages torn haphazardly from the book. The only words visible in the severed margins appear to be: I, laughter, who, patterns, transparent, noise}

I have no idea what day it is or how long I have been here. I am tired and the pain is now unbearable. The last time I looked in the mirror my body began to pixelate and blend into the background. When I squeezed my arm a noise shrieked from everywhere. I stared at myself for minutes, shimmering and flickering with the room. Slowly, and with frozen fascination, I moved the pixels of my face and blanked out.  

{Two empty pages with faint lines drawn on them}

Last night I placed headphones on in one last attempt to find sanctuary in listening, but felt a tension between my ears. The pressure became so much that I ripped the headphones away and as I did so, cicadas spilled into the air in a horrifying slow-motion dance. In a fit of auto-destructive rage I demolished equipment and smashed hard drives into pieces. Exhausted, I pummeled microphones onto walls and across the floor. 

What is happening? My body is changing; my voice distorting; everything is alive!

{Long break in the page, scratches and torn pieces of page}

These last few hours, or days, I’m not sure how long, have brought a deterioration that bears no words. I have lost my voice. When I try to speak there is only shrieking feedback. Language now swims in a sea of metallic waves. I spend my day in noise, unable to move for the unbearable feeling that something is listening to me; thousands of things in fact are listening to the tiniest sounds of my every move.  

All equipment is destroyed but somehow it still manages to whirr into operation every night. My computer screen flickers on, speakers begin to swell and the sounds of my breath, my feet, my shuffling recorded body fills the night air. I am immersed in the horrifying noise of myself. 

{Smears of blood and matted grey fur stuck to page}

Both ears are now completely covered by abscesses. Everything sounds from within a muffled chamber. I can hear my heart beating loudly. I tried to run but couldn’t get out of the door. Thousands of cicadas moved across the window. I felt a microphone underfoot. Picking it up I was shocked to see legs squirm from under it, like an insect flailing in the air. I threw it against a wall. 

Grey fluffy material appears to be growing out of my skin. Sound continues to sink more and more within itself. I can hear my respiratory system crackling and wheezing; every step triggers a chain of echoes, reverberating up and down my spine. I cannot write much longer. As I grapple to form these words I’m becoming translucent. Like a pixelated image my skin is cubed, it morphs effortlessly into the environment. I am camouflaged from myself. 

{The notebook was discovered open at this point}

Mark Peter Wright