In November 2011, Canadian artist Charles Stankievech obtained the Canadian Forces’ permission to take up residency at Alert, Nunavut.
Located at the northern end of Ellesmere Island on the eighty-second parallel, the station is the northernmost human settlement on earth.
Canadian Forces Station (CFS) Alert, built in the early 1950s during the Cold War, functions as a meteorological station, a base camp for polar expeditions and, above all, as a signals intelligence facility for Canadian and American armed forces. At its peak, the station had over two hundred personnel posted. CFS Alert was also the site of at least three airplane crashes, the wreckage of which still litters the surrounding landscape.
With shots taken over long time spans and then transferred to 35mm film, the images of The Soniferous Aether of the Land Beyond the Land Beyond have a mechanical look to them, as if some alien creature were walking through the ruins of a station abandoned by its occupants. The soundtrack, which combines the electronic sounds of broadcast signals, fragments of coded conversations and excerpts from the first recording (1955) of J. S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations played by Glenn Gould, reinforces this impression of science fiction.
The title “soniferous aether” is taken from a passage in Gravity’s Rainbow (1973) by the American writer Thomas Pynchon, in which the author imagines an aether filled with the sounds of the universe. The “land beyond the land beyond” is an adaptation of the station’s motto in Inuktitut, “Inuit Nunangata Ungata,” which means “beyond the Inuit land.” Two clocks identical to those filmed in the station, one running off the power of the station (AC) and the other off a battery (DC), together with the album that provided the excerpts played by Glenn Gould, and the 35mm film projector complete the installation.