Something unfamiliar began making its way through space one day, appearing from the radiant, some point near Deneb, the largest star of Cygnus. In fact, it was not just one thing shooting across at immeasurable speed from unknown space towards our planet, and it also did not appear in any describable way, either. Furthermore, we did not ever see what had occurred until after whatever was there had already vanished. What we found was only what it had left, the mark it had irrevocably made on Earth, just a blurry, intangible trace for some, a never-ending heritage to others. Since the incident, there are six areas that have been cordoned off and put under strict access control. We call them Visitation Zones. Whatever had touched the soil, it seemed to have disappeared again before anyone could get close. What we did find was an intangible trail of destruction, inexplicable anomalies in the landscape where laws of physics are changed like child’s play, weather phenomena that seem to stop at the threshold, shimmering clouds that swallow anything passing through them, balls of lightning wandering up and down electrical lines, skewed door frames that no longer lead into the buildings they are built into. What are now stretches of uninhabitable land were once vibrant forests, agricultural fields, and lakes, but also populated towns. Our Zone was once the quiet town of Harmont.
These Zones hold uncountable mysteries, most of them thought to be inaccessible. Inside, born from its anomalous cradle, lie scientific wonders, artefacts, that many believe hide the answers to the visitors’ origin, yet navigating through even the most sunlit path can be a risky endeavour. The best we can do is take one step at a time, observe, and try to learn a little more about it every day.
Harmont Zone is a themed audio project inspired by the greater world and atmosphere of Roadside Picnic (1972), the Russian science-fiction novel by Arcady and Boris Natanovich Strugatsky. Each episode is an experimental, moderated trip into the many unknowns of the Zone, a trip consisting of curated music, ambience, field recordings, and other pieces of sound. It is also directly inspired by the recently reborn Roadside Picnic Radio Podcast (2005–2021) by esteemed artist and filmmaker Joshua Zucker-Pluda.
A radio podcast is in a spot between the standard talk format podcast (in type and average runtime) and a radio broadcast show. The spotlight is on the selected content inside rather than moderation and stories. As a personal recommendation, I find the format to be ideal for concentrated work sessions, for art and writing, and as a backdrop for games with a fitting atmosphere.
Theme & Content
Harmont Zone starts out with episode 01 with the theme “Occlusion/Covert”. Picking up the tradition of RPRP, the opening segment gives a brief definition of these terms: “Occlusion” is the act of blocking view of something, something that prohibits you seeing something that might be behind it, and “Covert”, defined as an activity performed in secret, something that is not openly acknowledged or actively hidden. Both share a partial definition in the field of graphics and visuals, as well as politics and sociology.
Throughout the episode, we move past a saturated history of conflict, we become observers to the remnants and residue of past wars in the form of abandoned structures that once played a critical role in a dance on the brink and in the form of the music it inspired and left behind. The episode tries to stay close to the sentiments that also kindled the original Strugatsky novel, with a state of constant decline, economically and emotionally, in the Soviet Union. On this trek, we visit sounds from the storm, things foregone, we put our ear to the cold with tracks from Russian sound designers, we walk in the footsteps of the Chechen Wars, try to find solace and comfort in amnesia, are guided past defunct military installations, and maybe find a transient home in the warm embrace of old Eastern European Folk songs.
A theme close to the source material seems natural for a premiere, and nothing’s written as to where this journey goes from here. Work on the episode started a year before and its theme was already laid out before recent events gave it an unexpected push onto the here and now. The project is not intended as a statement, more of an observation.
Thoughts of creating something like Roadside Picnic may have taken first roots as far back as January 2015 when I created a playlist for songs that reminded me of it, some just randomly discovered on Spotify. This was just a spark, though, and it was soon buried under a mountain of new film work and other distractions. The idea wouldn’t seriously manifest again until around April 2020.
At this time, I knew I wanted something like it to exist, give my own version, and see what it becomes. I set up a project, recorded a bit of opening moderation as a sample, tried to shove self-doubts to the side and find some tracks that would fit. Skimming through the existing RPRP episodes, I wanted to get a grip of its structure and sequence, what made the format that I had come to love so much, down in the details. Despite not having listened to them in years, the style of the series had stuck to me, and it was surprisingly casual to recall the general form, take it, and shape it into something new. What was hard was finding the music, this would consume by far the most time until the premiere’s release. It was stop and go until particularly troubled times in late December 2021 gave the final push towards finishing it.
Read the campfire tale about the heart of the inspiration behind Harmont Zone, the spirit that walked with me for a few years of my life, in the companion article “A Roadside Picnic”.