The Suakin Archipelago is a cluster of tiny islands along the coast of Sudan, extending southeastward from the port of Suakin to the Eritrean border. When viewed from above – as through the eyes of a bird or satellite – the Suakin chain is barely visible, a scattering of microscopic specks in the Red Sea.

Among them are the ‘Two Islets’, a pair of landforms lying thirty-two kilometres off Sudan’s coast, nineteen kilometres (or seventeen nautical miles) from the nearest point of the mainland. Like many of their neighbours, these twin isles are formed of ancient fossil reefs sparsely adorned with low, salt-loving plants. Encircled by living coral formations under shallow water, from a birds-eye view the Islets appear to be dissolving, with solid centres and pale, dissipating edges. A dark blue channel is etched deep between them.

Birds rule the Two Islets: their presence is punctuated only by the occasional visits of sea turtle neighbours and human visitors. Representing a twenty-four-hour period on the Islets, this audio shows how a chorus of the dominant residents – nesting ospreys and their juveniles, western reef herons and a handful of the many tern species that proliferate here – swells once during the first hours of the day and again in the heat of the afternoon. Between midnight and dawn, the clattering of the wetland birds, the susurration of their wings and the surrounding plant life, ebbs in favour of the percussive hum of invertebrate night creatures. It is a tidal pulse of sound – surging and receding twice a day like the islands’ watery surroundings.

The Two Islets are almost eponymous, the ambiguity of their nomenclature lending itself to any pair of small islands the world over. Yet these are situated in the Red Sea, a marine theatre of multiple overlapping economic, military and geopolitical dynamics. As well as hosting a kaleidoscopic array of sea creatures, insects, birds and vegetal life, the Red Sea is one of the most critical economic arteries in global maritime logistics and a significant site of struggle, frequently subject to proxy contests by major global powers. As such, access points to Sudan's Suakin Archipelago are militarised and need to be facilitated by special permission.

Made from recordings collected across the archipelago in early 2023 just before the breakout of Sudan’s war, this composition offers an other-than-human perspective on the Red Sea. Through the airborne sounds of the birds, plants and insects, Two Islets thinks through the area’s component dynamics along multiple geopolitical axes: the X axis of lateral planetary agency, and the Y axis of vertical space, with the Earth as sub-terrain to the skies.

Return to the audio at any time to hear a new time of day on the islands corresponding to your location.

Words by Jay Drinkall
Sound design Panos Chountoulidis
Curation by Rahul Gudipudi
Development by Alan Woo