JM: Well, whether we were caught in a storm or not determined how long or short the day was out there. On the mornings that I had very little sleep, I would head down to have an early breakfast at around five a.m. before heading up to the bridge to watch a sunrise of biblical proportions. Those were my favorite mornings. In fact, that reconnection with nature—despite how vast and lonely the open ocean can be—was still the most profound aspect of the trip for me. Feeling connected to the earth and the universe in such a overwhelming way was a nice beginning to each day. The days tended to be divided by meal breaks, which happened at set times. And in between those meals I would busy myself with exploring the sounds of the ship, collecting sound for the documentary or composing and arranging those sounds into music for said documentary. It required a certain amount of initiative and self motivation to create tasks throughout the trip, though there wasn’t much else to do, to be honest. So there was really no choice but to work, work, work… Otherwise, it was easy to slip into despair, staring out into the black, seductive ocean.
I’m curious as to how you’ve slipped back into life on land. Have the experiences stayed with you and reverberated in your everyday existence or does it feel like a bit of a dream, and now you’ve snapped back to waking life?
CS: Land? What are you talking about? I’m still on the ship! Kidding aside, I do feel a bit out of my routine on land. The immediate busyness of the land engulfed me and I feel as though processing the journey, deciding what is real and unreal on sea versus on land and so forth are questions that will take some time to answer. Currently, even looking at the photos from the trip is difficult. It is like I’m looking at someone else’s adventure.
Did you learn anything from those early karaoke experiments on the ship? [The ship had a room almost solely devoted to karaoke.]
JM: I did! I learned a great deal. Or rather, I think it confirmed a few things that I already assumed about music—its ability to bridge divides in culture and language. A lot of the friendships we made were thanks to those karaoke sessions. The crew members were mainly working class Filipino guys and English was their second or third language. I discovered a couple of shining stars amongst them. One guy, Ray, had a smooth, slick pop voice and Chito, the mess man, had this fragile, tender voice. I ended up writing a song for him, a sort of lullaby for our babies back at our respective homes, which he translated into Tagalog, his native tongue. This was one of the highlights of the trip for me. I also used Ray’s voice, but more as an instrument. I’ve have been manipulating the notes he sang and cutting and pasting them into new shapes and melodies.
Tell me about the friendships and experiences that really defined the trip for you?
“Exposure to more isolation,
more dramatic sunrises and more salt in our
nostrils could only be a positive thing.”
— Cole Sternberg
CS: Oh man, I missed out a bit on new friends. Everyone in our crew seemed to have a specific close buddy on the ship’s crew except for me! I think (or hope) this is partially due to my multi-faceted role, but who knows. I was, however, very struck by the general kindness and emotion shown throughout the ship. Everyone seemed engaged in our processes and willing to welcome us into their sea family. They’ve brought me to tears many times hearing and recalling their personal stories.
How did it feel exploring the cargo holds from an audio perspective and emotional one? And perhaps, explain the dynamics of the hold a bit.
JM: That was a particularly awe-inspiring experience in a completely different way than those stunning sunrises. That’s the other thing about being out there at sea on these giant vessels—all sense of scale is lost due to the magnitude of your environment and surroundings. The ship itself is unfathomably huge. The cargo holds are basically these giant steel pits for transporting minerals. There are four of them spread along the vessel and they’re each like an abyss. They act like giant reverb chambers, so from a sound perspective it’s like walking into a sonic cathedral. Every creak and moan of the ship is amplified and echoed. I found a bunch of pipes and hoses and brought them down the manhole into one of the holds and proceeded to blow into them and play them like a wonky, busted up horn section.
What becomes of all of this work and all of this footage and all of this sound. We have an ocean of documentation to wade through. What’s next?
CS: That is the exciting part of finding our land legs. I’m looking at 80 hours of documentary footage, 18 paintings and over 2500 photos, and collaging all of it into rational frameworks. It will likely take years to do justice to the trip in all creative formats. Would you go back on the ship?
JM: I would almost certainly go back on the ship for short periods of time, depending on the destination and route. Again, the isolation is such a valuable thing for the creative process. That kind of concentrated isolation is nearly impossible to have in my land life. How about you?
CS: I would certainly go back. The adventure is different the second time around, but knowing what we know now, I think our creative approaches could be sharpened and our exposure to more isolation, more dramatic sunrises and more salt in our nostrils could only be a positive thing.
JM: And finally, how do you feel about the paintings that you created aboard the Ultra Letizia?
CS: I’m in love with them.